Ernestine Rose and DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals)

     In 1887, near the end of her long life, Ernestine Rose declared that "For over fifty years, I have endeavored to promote the rights of humanity without distinction of sex, sect, party, country, or color."  She herself experienced discrimination not only because she was female, but also because of her "country" -- she had been born in Poland.  Although she lived in the United States for 33 years and was integral to the U.S. women's movement, she remained its only non-native born member and was always called a "foreigner."  Even worse, during the 1850s, the anti-immigrant American Party arose.  It demanded limits on their entry, a 21-year residence period before citizenship could be applied for, and the restriction of all political offices to the native born.  The party's members said they "knew nothing" about it, giving rise to its nickname of the Know Nothing Party.  A number of Rose's fellow participants in the women's movement voiced their agreement with its views in her presence.

     As a historian, I'm leery of making comparisons between different eras, but the Know Nothings' tenets are amazingly parallel to those of Donald Trump and his attorney general, Jeff Sessions.  In his recent speech rescinding DACA, which gave persons brought here as children the right to stay for two years if they had not committed a crime, Sessions harked back to the distant past.  He did not invoke the Know Nothings, but rather the severely restrictive 1924 Immigration Act.  Designed by a congressional eugenicist, this bill sought to keep the United States "Anglo-Saxon" by outlawing the entry of most Jews, Italians and other southern Europeans, as well as all Asians.  In 2015, then Senator Sessions, disparaging the prediction that in a few years "we'll have the highest percentage of Americans non-native born since the founding of the republic," praised this act since it "slowed immigration" and "created the really solid middle class of America."  (Thanks to Rachel Maddow for this information.)  Sessions also argued falsely this year that DACA was "unconstitutional," that it would take jobs from "hundreds of thousands of Americans," and that it would work against "national security" and "public safety."

     After she left Poland, Ernestine Rose lived in Germany, France, and England before coming here.  In London, she met Robert Owen, the industrial-turned-radical, whose expansive view of human rights became her own.  "We have been told that Robert Owen was a dreamer," she asserted at a celebration of his life, "and what glorious dreams he dreamt!....It is said that he did not succeed.  But where he did not succeed in the past, he will in the future.  He shook the foundation of the old system, and left it to time to do the rest."

     I believe that time is on the side of those of us who oppose the racism and prejudice exemplified by Trump and Sessions, but our Dreamers, as DACA recipients are called, cannot wait since they will be deported in six months.  New York's attorney general, Eric Schneiderman, has already brought a lawsuit arguing that since almost 80% of the Dreamers are of Mexican origin, its rescinding is based on the anti-Mexican discrimination Trump expressed so often during his campaign.  The rest of us must continue, as Rose so often urged, to "agitate, agitate" for the causes we believe in, starting with the protection of these involuntary young immigrants.