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Why Stripping U.S. Citizens of Their Passports Is a Precursor to Genocide

Taking away people’s passports and citizenship is a precursor to genocide.

It’s what happened to Jews in Germany in 1938 when their passports were declared invalid. That is what is beginning to happen here, now, to Hispanic citizens along the U.S.-Mexico border.

Oh, is it bad to compare the GOP to Nazis? Well, if members of the GOP do not like being compared to Nazis, they should consider not behaving exactly like Nazis.

Hispanic U.S. citizens, some of whom were in the U.S. military, are not being allowed to renew their passports. This is reportedly happening to “hundreds, even thousands” of Latinos, according to a report in the Washington Post. They’re getting letters from the State Department saying it does not believe they are citizens. The government claims their citizenships are fraudulent. “I’ve had probably 20 people who have been sent to the detention center—U.S. citizens,” Jaime Diez, an attorney in Brownsville, told The Washington Post.

The Washington Post also reports on ICE officials coming to citizens' homes and taking their passports away. This is an escalation from a few months ago, when Americans were detained by ICE officials just for speaking Spanish to one another.

The administration is currently launching an effort to take citizenship from people who they suspect of fraud in obtaining it. Fraud in these cases is exceedingly rare. The last time the government tried to strip people of their citizenship was, according to Columbia Professor Mae Ngai, during The Red Scare of the 1950s. As Ngai remarks, McCarthyism is not typically remembered as a good period in American history.

There is good reason to believe that this could portend still worse things to come for the U.S. Hispanic population, unless people begin to speak out loudly, and fast.

There will be those who can say that anything too terrible could not happen here. As journalists like Sarah Kendzior, who has been charting this administration’s erosion of democratic values, points out, “This country has a history of genocide and autocratic policies: slaughter of Native Americans, slavery, Jim Crow, etc.”

So, there is no need to say “it couldn’t happen here.” It has happened here, and plenty. Right now, 528 children are still waiting to be reunited with their familiesafter being separated from them by the government.

Stripping these men and women of their citizenship is not about immigration or jobs. It is about Hispanic people. It is about race. I can assure you of that, because my parents are also immigrants. I am a first generation American. Since we are white, the extent of any persecution I ever endured was being asked to pronounce “aluminum” in middle school and being told my accent was cute. No one has denied my parents their citizenship, or, I think, will be denying Melania or Ivanka Trump their citizenship.

And we can be grateful for that, because the alternative is terrifying.


Denying people their citizenship is a clear way to indicate that they should no longer expect to receive the rights of citizens. The right to a fair trial? They shouldn’t expect that. Not being investigated without just cause? Forget about it.

In response to the holocaust, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights declared that, “Everyone has a right to a nationality.” In cases in America, the importance of being entitled to citizenship was made clear in a 1967 Supreme court ruling, which declared that “Under the citizenship clause of the fourteenth amendment, A U.S. citizen cannot lose his or her citizenship unless he or she willingly surrenders it.”

Trump does not seem to understand the value of citizenship—in 2016, he proposed that it might be revoked for burning an American flag.

Flag burning is a constitutionally protected part of free speech, and stripping anyone of their citizenship as a form of criminal punishment was a practice, again, rejected by the Supreme court in 1967.

What Trump does understand is his base. Many members of Trump’s working class base do have real concerns—it is true that wages aren’t growing in America and that manufacturing jobs have all but disappeared. These people might rightly note that their lives look harder than their parents. They’re angry and want someone to blame—but not people who look like them, as those people are beacons of hope that their lives might improve. In Hispanic immigrants, Trump gave them a scapegoat.

Steve Bannon remarked in an interview with Michael Lewis that they won on “Pure anger. Anger and fear is what gets people to the polls.” It’s not a coincidence that Trump is once again whipping up fears—and by stripping people of their citizenship implying to his base that these people should not be here, and they are right to be concerned about immigration fraud—when an upcoming election in Texas, a border state, looks increasingly heated.

Trump won on anger? Fine. You should be angry too. At what he’s doing, and what it might lead to.

Fans of Trump will claim these measures are just about sending people back to their homelands, and therefore, getting people who did not belong in America out. Well, what do you think the holocaust was about? Jews were not considered citizens.

Franz Rademacher, head of the German Foreign Office’s “Jewish desk” in the 1940s, claimed that the main goal was “All Jews Out of Europe.” Nazis proposed a lot of deportation solutions—most notably, transporting all Jews to Madagascar—before concluding that one way to get an unwanted population out was just to kill them.

If it comes to that, people will not know what is happening. Rulers don’t typically make mass announcements when minorities are being persecuted up to and including death. It is not necessary for the purposes of autocrats who wish to commit genocide that everyone knows what is happening to minorities. It is only necessary that most people be indifferent to what is happening to them. The steps that lead up to genocide, besides stripping minorities of their citizenship, are about “othering” a population enough that the strife they experience is not seen as akin to anything we might experience. It’s what allows people like Tucker Carlson to see children in internment camps and say that anyone who is horrified is part of a “ruling class” who “cares more about foreigners than their own people.” As if five-year-olds are a terror that good Americans would fight against.


It would be delusional to think that Trump, a man who has an ongoing feud with Mexico, who reportedly regrets ever even implying that he did not think white nationalists were “very fine people”, and who refers to illegal immigrants as people who “infest our country”, would not continue to persecute Hispanic people.

If you think it can’t get worse, remember that we’re already at a place where we’re drugging children.

Protesting in the face of such outrageous abuses of power, of such true horrors, can feel overwhelming. Marching is joyless. Calling your representatives on the phone is annoying. Doing pretty much anything else is more fun. No part of these protests are fun for the vast majority of people. So, it might feel easy to turn away from this horrifying moment in our history and watch some nice videos of cats acting like people.

All I can say to this it to imagine how you might have felt if you were to find out that your grandparents lived in Germany during the rise of Nazism and did nothing. Imagine finding this out as a child. Imagine your parents perhaps explaining that it didn’t mean your grandparents were bad people. They might say that they were afraid of authorities. They might say that they had a lot of other life events going on. They might say that they simply didn’t know how bad Germany was going to get. They might say they weren’t political.

These are the defenses people always use. And still, I can’t imagine you would hear about their inaction and not love your grandparents a little bit less. Every time you saw them, at vacations, at holiday dinners, and otherwise pleasant events, you would wonder, a tiny bit disgusted, how they did nothing. You would wonder how such nice people could let something so atrocious come to pass.

This is where we’re at. This is where you are at.

I can’t tell you what actions you should take, because I don’t know what talents you have at your disposal. Do you have legal skills to help people who may be threatened by these new changes? Use them. Can you write about what’s going on? Write about it. Do you have a church or place or worship to help organize refuge for the persecuted? Do so. Do you have time to call your senators and congressmen? Call. Keep calling. Make them hear you.

And if you’re in politics, well, I hope every single Democratic politician reads this. Your complicity in anything that stems from this administration will not be forgiven in the future.

Do something today to make your descendants proud.