Victor Klemperer's grandfather was only 8 years old when he fled the pogroms in Russia and came to the United States all by himself.
Years later, the young Victor listened to his grandfather's stories about the pogroms and the concentration camps, and he was terrified that the same could happen to him, even though they lived in the United States, the world's greatest democracy.
He was eventually able to overcome this fear by reasoning that their home was only three hours from Canada. They could always escape across the border to freedom in Canada.
Now the adult Victor works with the Sanctuary Movement, helping refugees resettle in the U.S. But suddenly a new president and his supporters are demonizing refugees as dangerous, possibly terrorists. This rhetoric coming from the highest office -- now coupled with stories of ICE deportation squads rounding up immigrants, handcuffing them, separating families to send the "illegals" back to where they came from -- makes it hard for refugees to feel safe, even those who have already passed "extreme vetting." If this new president and his angry supporters don't want them here, how can they feel safe, given what they've been through?
And now there are stories in the news that some of them, out of fear, are trying to escape from the United States, across the border into Canada. What a travesty that public opinion and deliberate misinformation have created a fear of deportation even among those who have passed all the vetting tests and have a right to be here.
Klemperer writes: "I realize the old demons are back This time they are not the product of an overwrought child's imagination. This time they are walking among us. They are working in plain sight. They saturate our airwaves and news feeds. They are not coy about their agenda. . . . They are clear as a winter day and twice as cold. This time is different and it's different in a very specific and disturbing way. The difference between what I see now and what I imagined as a child is this: I'm not scared. I'm ashamed."
Klemperer continues: "The stories of people risking their lives to escape over the U.S. border for freedom in Canada makes it painfully clear. We are no longer claiming the mantle of "land of the free" or "the shining city on the hill" for the huddled masses yearning to breathe free. I hate to say it, but I'm glad Grandpa didn't live to see this. It would have broken his heart."
It's not clear to me whether those in the news stories trying to get over the Canadian border are actual refugees or whether they are undocumented immigrants who are being rounded up by the ICE deportation squads. In truth, the conflation of those two groups in the misinformation chatter is making it all much worse.
My point is the changing perception of what our country stands for. In a short span of time, Trump has changed that.
In contrast, many thanks to the compassionate people all over the country who are standing up for refugees who are here legally -- and also standing up for those who have lived here for years as law-abiding, hard-working contributors to our society, even if undocumented. Let's figure out a humane immigration reform that does not divide families, while still keeping us safe. Creating terror in young children -- for political gain -- is not the answer, Mr. Trump.