In Conversation: Rachel Buff & Brant Rosen
New Book Uncovers Repressed History of Immigrant Rights
The recent story of German pilots grounding 222 flights to avoid returning would-be asylum seekers to the homes they fled has many historical precedents. In 1945, Indonesian sailors in New York harbor refused to board ships carrying war materiel to Dutch troops in their homeland. Taking refuge in Harlem, where they received a hero’s welcome, these sailors were represented by the American Committee for the Protection of the Foreign Born (ACPFB).
The recent publication of Against the Deportation Terror, by Rachel Ida Buff, traces the history of the ACPFB, uncovering the deep 20 th century roots of contemporary movements for immigrant and refugee rights. Because of protracted repression, the very existence of the ACPFB has vanished from the historical record. Resurfacing at a bitter moment of renewed xenophobia, the story of the ACPFB provides examples of persistence and survival in face of what the organization called “the deportation terror.” These stories speak urgently to the current moment of glacial repression and resurgent organizing. The book traces:
Advocacy for refugees in face of bans against various nationalities throughout the 20 th century
Repression and surveillance of foreign born activists paralleling current activities in Arab and Muslim communities and “Anti-Sanctuary” laws
Parallels between McCarthyism and contemporary xenophobia
The disappearance of mass media coverage of individual deportations, and their replacement by tales of “criminal aliens”
The power of multiracial alliances against xenophobia and white supremacy
Rachel Ida Buff teaches history and comparative ethnic studies at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. She does social justice organizing with Jewish Voice for Peace, the American Association of University Professionals and Voces de la Frontera, a workers' center and immigrant rights organization. Against the Deportation Terror is her third non-fiction book, along with Immigration and the Political Economy of Home and the edited collection: Immigrant Rights in the Shadows of Citizenship. A contributor to progressive media outlets, she is also completing her first novel, Into Velvet, about violence, race and love in the northern midwest.
Brant Rosen is the rabbi of Tzedek Chicago and the Midwest Regional Director of the American Friends Service Committee. He is the author of the book "Wrestling in the Daylight" and blogs at Shalom Rav.