Last week’s announcement that the Trump administration is looking to cut the number of refugees allowed into the U.S. permanently and discriminate against immigrants who don’t speak English came from two people who should be glad those policies were not in effect when their ancestors came here.
Neither Donald Trump nor his senior adviser Stephen Miller would be in Washington today if the RAISE Act they peddle were in force more than a century ago. Donald Trump’s immigrant grandfather, Friedrich Trump – listed as “Trumf” in immigration records – came to the U.S. from Germany in 1885 at the age of 16. He left Bavaria by himself and was a sort of 19th Century “unaccompanied minor.”
Even though he did not speak English and his occupation was listed by the authorities as “none,” he was allowed to enter the country. The day after his arrival, Friedrich found work with a barber, no doubt depriving an American of the job.
The Independent cites a biographer of Friedrich’s who said that he learned English after he arrived in New York, which could have barred him from the country had the RAISE Act been in place.
But, Trump’s mother, Mary Anne McLoed might have been in the clear, listing herself as speaking English on Census documents. However, according to the Scottish newspaper The National, she emigrated from Tong in Scotland to avoid a life of grinding and potential poverty, the same class that the administration aims to restrict from immigrating to the U.S.
As Miller, Trump’s 30-year-old aide, fleshed out the president’s announcement last week, he sneered at a reporter’s suggestion that the new legislation contradicted Emma Lazarus’s poem on the Statue of Liberty. He disparaged today’s immigrants as a drain on society, defending Trump’s plan to drastically and permanently curtail America’s welcome for refugees.
What Miller did not mention was that his own ancestors were poor Jewish refugees escaping persecution who did not speak English. His mother is descended from the Glossers, who are now wealthy and powerful, but that wasn’t always the case.
The Glossers were Jewish immigrants who fled Antopol in Belarus, a part of the Czar’s empire often called “White Russia” at the time, running from anti-Semitic attacks in 1902-1903 from paramilitaries in Jewish settlements within the Russian Empire.
Wolf and Bessie Glotzer, their original surname, arrived in the U.S. with only $8 in funds, less than $200 in 2017 dollars.
Other Glotzers eventually joined them, including their son Nathan the tailor and Sam Glotzer, who was Stephen Miller’s great-grandfather. They all have benefitted from the family-based immigration that Miller denounces today as “chain migration.” And, they didn’t have visas. Historically, the United States had not required visas from non-Chinese immigrants.
Also, immigration before World War I also was not capped by numerical limitations. Non-Christians were welcomed, at least legally, and the only ideological limitation was that one could not be an anarchist.
Most immigrants during that time did not speak English, were impoverished, sought refuge from persecution or were trying to improve their job prospects. They never would have passed scrutiny along the lines of finances, language and job offers now proposed.
Three years after their arrival, the family changed its name to “Glosser” and established a store, “Glosser Brothers,” in Johnstown, Pennsylvania, later growing their enterprise to a string of 23 discount stores in four states.
We can’t blame the immigrant ancestors of Donald Trump and Stephen Miller for the ignorance and bigotry of their scions. But, we can confront these two Neo-Know Nothings with the contrast of their own family history with the policies that they pursue today.