Betraying their heritage: Trump’s immigration functionaries fail to understand the lessons of the Italian-American story

The men behind the draconian immigration policies of the Trump administration skillfully mimic the president’s invective and ahistorical logic. Matthew Albence, the acting director of ICE, once compared the crowded and filthy family detention centers to “summer camp.” Ken Cuccinelli, second in command at the Department of Homeland Security, sarcastically reworded Emma Lazarus’s famous poem in an attempt to justify Trump’s harsh new public-charge rule: “Give me your tired and your poor who can stand on their own two feet.”

Along with the engineer of Trump’s foreign policy, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, these men share something else: They are the grandsons and great-grandsons of Italian immigrants who arrived here around the turn of the century. Indeed, hearing the surnames of these architects of indifference is like listening to a night at the opera: Pompeo, Cuccinelli, and Albence (who replaced the not-tough-enough Ron Vitiello).

What an extraordinary irony. The men implementing one of the cruelest immigration policies of the last 100 years are just two generations removed from men who were similarly victimized by the Anglo-Saxon elite.

A 1903 political cartoon from Judge, a Republican magazine, sums up yesterday’s nativism in a way that looks remarkably familiar. The cartoon, titled “The Unrestricted Dumping Ground,” pictures poor Uncle Sam standing on a dock, his arms wrapped around an American flag, while the “rats” of Europe swim to the shore. They have giant rat bodies with faces of swarthy, dark-haired men who could be confused today for Mexican and Central Americans.

The rats wear headbands marked “Mafia,” “Anarchist,” “Socialist” — all labels associated with the millions of Italian migrants. A ghostly image of the late President William McKinley, assassinated by the son of an immigrant, haunts Uncle Sam. The message is clear: Immigrants from the slums of Europe are dangerous and must be stopped from entering our borders.

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