Frankly, a Shameful Record

Published February 23, 2007, issue of February 23, 2007.
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The recent discovery that the family of Anne Frank had unsuccessfully attempted to obtain an American visa before being captured by the Nazis shines light on the failure of the United States to do enough to save Jews from the Holocaust. In reaction to the news, Rep. Steve Israel has reintroduced a bill to make the child martyr an honorary American citizen.

“The best way we can honor Anne Frank in death is to give her what her father sought for her in life,” said Israel, a New York Democrat, in a statement last week. “The news that Anne Frank’s family sought to flee to the United States makes it clearer than ever that we should bestow honorary citizenship upon Anne Frank.”

We respectfully disagree: The best way to honor Anne Frank’s memory — and to demonstrate that America has learned a lesson from its past mistakes — would be for the Bush administration to take comprehensive steps to address the needs of the mounting numbers of Iraqi refugees. It has been estimated that since the American invasion, 1.8 million people in Iraq have been driven from their homes and another 2 million have fled to neighboring states.

What has the administration done to address the crisis? From 2003 until last month, the United States admitted 466 Iraqi refugees (this is not a misprint — there are no zeros missing from the end of that figure). America currently spends about $8 billion a month on the war, but the administration reportedly entered 2007 planning to spend just $60 million this fiscal year to provide shelter and protection for displaced Iraqis, and $20 million to help resettle refugees here and in other countries.

The administration has taken a few key steps in recent weeks, which suggests that it is finally ready to set a new, morally responsible course on the issue. Earlier this month, the State Department announced the creation of a task force to coordinate American efforts to resettle and assist Iraqi refugees. Then, last week, administration officials unveiled a plan to admit about 7,000 of the refugees into this country by the end of the year.

Compared with the White House’s shameful record on the issue until now, such steps constitute progress. But given our country’s role in creating the humanitarian debacle — and the fact that thousands of Iraqis are now displaced and have no future back in their native country because of their support for America’s reconstruction effort — more must be done.

As Senator Arlen Specter recently pointed out during a hearing on Capitol Hill, last year 20,000 of the immigration slots reserved for refugees went unused. The issue, according the State Department official on the other end of Specter’s grilling, was a matter of dollars and cents: Financing for the slots was not available.

Before Congress and the White House think about symbolic ways to honor Anne Frank, they should figure out how to pay for the basic steps needed to alleviate a refugee crisis that America played a large role in creating.






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