The Unlikely Legislative Duo that Joined Together on Immigration

The politics of immigration, now at a fever pitch in Washington, has a long sordid history. Exactly 80 years ago this month, an improbable political duo introduced an emergency immigration bill and ignited a debate about our borders. The circumstances ripple across time, instructing us today.

The legislative alliance in Congress was forged by monstrous events in Europe. Nearly 100,000 Jewish children were trapped in Nazi Germany as violence, poverty, arrests, and deportations intensified. Just five months earlier, in November 1939, the Nazis unleashed pogroms across the Reich.

More than 1,000 synagogues were badly damaged or burned, 7,500 Jewish businesses were looted, at least 90 Jews were killed, and about 30,000 Jewish males between the ages of 16 and 60 were arrested over two days. To accommodate so many new prisoners, the concentration camps at Dachau, Buchenwald, and Sachsenhausen were expanded. For Jews in the Reich, time was running out. While other countries were admitting additional refugees, the United States had effectively reached its annual quota of 27,300 for all immigrants from Germany and Austria

Nourse Rogers of Massachusetts and Democratic Senator Robert Wagner of New York made a rescue attempt from Capitol Hill. Rogers came from a prosperous New England lineage, graduated from a finishing school in Paris, and was a critic of President Franklin Roosevelt. Wagner was a former Tammany Hall ward heeler who immigrated to the United States from Prussia as a child and was a key Roosevelt ally. One liked to wear an orchid or gardenia on her shoulder. The other stuffed a loosely folded handkerchief in his breast pocket.


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