In 1945, Europe was reeling from the devastation of World War II. Two young Holocaust survivors from Poland, Regina Tondowska and Kalman Epstein, who had survived concentration camps — she at Theresienstadt and he at Auschwitz — met in the Zielsheim Displaced Persons camp near Frankfurt, Germany, fell in love and married. They’d lost their homes, most of their families and faced a bleak future.
Fortunately, for the Epsteins, President Harry Truman favored a liberal immigration policy toward displaced persons. On Dec. 22, 1945, he issued Directive 225, an executive order that became known as the “Truman Directive.” It enabled nearly 23,000 displaced persons to enter the United States between the end of 1945 and 1947. Truman said, “This period of unspeakable human distress is not the time for us to close or to narrow our gates.” In 1948, Congress followed suit, creating the Displaced Person and Refugee Act, paving the way for 400,000 displaced persons to arrive by 1952 and establishing “refugee” as a legal term in American immigration law and practice.
The Epsteins, whose story is told in a soon-to-open Tenement Museum exhibit called “Under One Roof,” arrived in New York Harbor aboard the Marine Perch on April 22, 1947, two days before Kalman’s 39th birthday. Truman’s actions not only allowed these Holocaust survivors a chance at a new life but also inaugurated a bipartisan tradition of presidents using executive orders to admit people to the United States.
In 1961, President John F. Kennedy issued an executive order for those fleeing the Cuban Revolution allowing one million people to enter the United States. In 1975, President Gerald Ford did the same for refugees from the Vietnam War, enabling 360,000 people to come here. And in 1989, President George H.W. Bush issued an order allowing 80,000 Chinese facing the post-Tiananmen Square repression to come to the America. In 2012, President Barack Obama, issued the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) directive, allowing children brought to the country illegally to remain here, continuing a nearly 70-year old tradition of the use of executive power to open America’s doors to immigrants and refugees.
By Kevin Jennings for THE HILL
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