As fall begins and our attention whipsaws between the Trump scandal du jour and the general busy-ness of our daily lives, a national tragedy that began in the spring continues to haunt our country today. I am of course talking about the Trump administration’s family separation policy. It is partly for this reason why I have become so involved in the United States Senate race in my home state of New Jersey, even while running for mayor in my town of Englewood. We have a choice between Senator Bob Menendez, who is a leading voice on immigration issues, and Bob Hugin, a Trump shill who barely pretends to care about the horrors inflicted on the separated families and children.
Beginning in April, the administration announced a “zero tolerance” policy in which immigrant families caught attempting to cross the border into the United States would be separated so that children and parents could not even be incarcerated together. Chaos, psychological trauma, and even death ensued. At its peak, the program separated 2,500 people. Fortunately, our federal judiciary stepped up and mandated that the federal government reunify all families. Unfortunately, our government has yet to reunite hundreds of individuals who are trying to desperately to see their families again. The total disorganization exhibited by our immigration officials is indeed deeply disturbing.
As an immigration attorney, my clients’ experiences have run the gamut. Many have dealt with unspeakable hardships while others have had more fortunate livelihoods. The reason I find the government’s zero tolerance policy so troubling is because it should never be the United States that creates the horrors for people wanting to immigrate here. Our country must of course have security policies in place, but there is no rationale why we cannot carry out our laws with humanity and respect. If we are to be a democratic nation that serves as a beacon of hope and virtue for the rest of the world, our government officials and policies must never fall short of the highest ideals set forth by our Founding Fathers in the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution.
As a Jew, I am also disappointed in our leaders. I need not recite the history of forced migration of the Jewish people in this publication. As excruciating as it was for our ancestors to be rejected by some countries, it was equally joyous to be welcomed to the United States where our community continues to thrive.
This mindset is why I support Senator Bob Menendez’s re-election campaign. Not only is he a major supporter of Israel, but in 2013 Senator Menendez was a member of the Gang of 8, a bipartisan group of senators that came together to draft comprehensive immigration reform legislation. The bill both created a pathway to citizenship for immigrants already living in the United States and contributing to our communities. The bill passed the Senate 68-32. House Republicans then capitulated to the far-right wing of their party and stopped it from reaching President Obama’s desk. It was beyond disappointing that so many Republicans sided with xenophobia over commonsense public policy.
In contrast, Senator Menendez’s opponent, Bob Hugin, may try to come across as a sensible Republican, but nothing in his history supports that notion. Perhaps most tellingly, at the same time that Senator Menendez was pursuing groundbreaking immigration legislation, Hugin wrote a half-million-dollar check to the influential Heritage Foundation, an extreme right-wing think tank and political advocacy group. That same year, Heritage achieved particular notoriety for publishing a sham study that suggested immigration reform will cost the public trillions of dollars in government subsidies. One of the authors had previously written that the IQ of immigrants was “substantially lower than that of the white native population, and the difference is likely to persist over several generations.”
This wasn’t a one-off conservative donation. Hugin also donated $100,000 to Trump’s campaign. In turn, it should then come as no surprise that Hugin, well into his thirties, sought to keep women out his exclusive college club. After the New Jersey Supreme Court ruled his former club could no longer discriminate against women, he called the decision “politically correct fascism.” Please. We Jews know what fascism looks like, and a court decision advancing social justice isn’t it.
Clearly we need a senator like Bob Menendez who knows how to reach across the aisle to make laws that maintain a deep sense of compassion. Let us enter the voting booth with a moral compass. Our country needs it more than ever.
Michael Wildes is a candidate for mayor in Englewood, an immigration attorney, and the author of the recently published “Safe Haven in America: Battles to Open the Golden Door.”