Monday, April 30, 2018

Caravan of the Damned

I've been thinking about the SS St Louis---the 1939 refugee ship that was turned away from Cuba and the US.

Sailing so close to Florida that they could see the lights of Miami, some passengers on the St. Louis cabled President Franklin D. Roosevelt asking for refuge. Roosevelt never responded. The State Department and the White House had decided not to take extraordinary measures to permit the refugees to enter the United States. A State Department telegram sent to a passenger stated that the passengers must "await their turns on the waiting list and qualify for and obtain immigration visas before they may be admissible into the United States." US diplomats in Havana intervened once more with the Cuban government to admit the passengers on a "humanitarian" basis, but without success.
Fleeing the Nazi's, the refugees, mostly Jews, mostly German, originally sought safe haven in Cuba, only to be refused.
When the St. Louis arrived in Havana harbor on May 27, the Cuban government admitted 28 passengers: 22 of them were Jewish and had valid US visas; the remaining six—four Spanish citizens and two Cuban nationals—had valid entry documents. One further passenger, after attempting to commit suicide, was evacuated to a hospital in Havana. The remaining 908 passengers (one passenger had died of natural causes en route)—including one non-refugee, a Hungarian Jewish businessman—had been awaiting entry visas and carried only Cuban transit visas issued by Gonzalez. 743 had been waiting to receive US visas. The Cuban government refused to admit them or to allow them to disembark from the ship.
After Cuba denied entry to the passengers on the St. Louis, the press throughout Europe and the Americas, including the United States, brought the story to millions of readers throughout the world. Though US newspapers generally portrayed the plight of the passengers with great sympathy, only a few journalists and editors suggested that the refugees be admitted into the United States.
Now hundreds of people fleeing thugs and goons who threaten their lives are massing at the US-Mexican border.
Denied passage on Sunday into a pedestrian crossing between Tijuana and San Diego at the San Ysidro port of entry, many of those who had fled El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras hoping for U.S. asylum slept in a square at the Mexican entrance.
Mexican officials late on Sunday allowed a first group into the walkway, about 50 women, children and transgender people, among the “most vulnerable” of the caravan, organizers said.

But they were stopped between the Mexican and U.S. gates, where U.S. Customs and Border agents would need to ask if they feared going back to their homelands, initiating a lengthy and fraught legal process that could end in deportation or asylum.
A movie was made about the St. Louis, titled "Voyage of the Damned". I've never seen that film, but it strikes me that the real damnation belongs to those who locked their ports to these people. Then, and now.

No comments:

Post a Comment