Ishtar Tharoor writes in the Washington Post:
“For the Pilgrims, there was certainly a lot to be grateful for. Their radical brand of Puritanism, identified as “Separatism” because of its disavowal of the Church of England, left them vulnerable to fines, imprisonment and persecution in their home country. They spent more than a decade in exile in what is now the Netherlands, but suffered financially and feared they would be in danger if the political winds in the continent started blowing in a different direction. The preceding and following years in European history present a litany of religious massacres and pogroms.
So they set sail aboard a couple of ships, including one famously named the Mayflower, as early modern refugees seeking a better life in a different part of the world. President Barack Obama summoned that simple aspiration two Thanksgivings ago, when the mood in his country was decidedly hostile to the plight of Syrian refugees.
“Nearly four centuries after the Mayflower set sail, the world is still full of pilgrims — men and women who want nothing more than the chance for a safer, better future for themselves and their families,” said Obama in 2015. “What makes America America is that we offer that chance. We turn Lady Liberty’s light to the world, and widen our circle of concern to say that all God’s children are worthy of our compassion and care. That’s part of what makes this the greatest country on Earth.”
Obama’s successor, President Trump, doesn’t quite seem to agree. He grandstands on a nationalist platform that looks darkly upon migrants and has sought to stanch the already thin flow of refugees into the United States. His erstwhile ideologue, Stephen K. Bannon, recently declared the United States is not a “nation of immigrants” — as the popular saying goes — but a “nation of citizens.”
That rhetoric shadowed Trump’s remarks at the traditional annual White House turkey pardoning ritual on Tuesday. “This Thursday, as we give thanks for our cherished loved ones, let us also renew our bonds of trust, loyalty and affection between our fellow citizens as members of a proud national family of Americans,” Trump said.
For the American right wing, the Thanksgiving story offers a different parable that has nothing to do with refugees. For decades, conservatives argued that a shift in farming practices toward private plots and away from communal farming was what saved the embattled Massachusetts colony from extinction. “So began the American recoil from collectivism,” noted Washington Post columnist George Will in 2006 in a piece that linked Thanksgiving to “the ascent of individualism.”
. . . .
Whatever the case, of course, there’s no happy ending for the indigenous people who attended the first Thanksgiving feast, bearing five deer hunted for the occasion. Contact with Europeans before the Pilgrims’ arrival had already led to smallpox eradicating whole communities. The years that followed would complete their dispossession and disappearance.
Strangely, at a time when the American far right decries the existential threat posed by refugees with supposedly fundamentalist religious convictions, they have no problem aligning with the country’s original migrants.“
Read the complete piece at the link.
I absolutely agree with Tharoor that the Pilgrims fit squarely within today’s legal definition of “refugee.” Indeed, I granted a number of similar “religiously based” cases to Christians, Muslims, and other “20th and 21st Century Pilgrims.”
But, I can imagine someone like Jeff Sessions and some of the judges who work for him finding that the harm feared by the Pilgrims was “mere discrimination, not persecution;” or that it was “primarily economically, rather than religiously or politically motivated;” or that the Pilgrims were “firmly resettled” in the Netherlands. As one of my former BIA judicial colleagues used to say, there are lots of ways to deny asylum once you decide that’s the result you want.
We are, always have been, and always will be a “nation of refugees,” and there is nothing that the Trump-Sessions-Bannon-Miller White Nationalist crowd ultimately can do to change that.
But, among other things, I’m very thankful that I’m not a refugee in their world today.