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Attorney General Merrick Garland invokes Holocaust history at immigration ceremony

‘Under the protection of our laws, she was able to live without persecution,’ Merrick Garland says of his grandmother

Attorney General Merrick Garland spoke emotionally at a swearing-in ceremony for new citizens this weekend about his grandmother and mother-in-law finding refuge from Nazi persecution in the United States.

“This country took her in,” Garland said of his grandmother, one of five siblings born in Belarus, two of whom were killed in the Holocaust. “And under the protection of our laws, she was able to live without fear of persecution.”

Speaking to some 200 immigrants from 57 countries on the 235th anniversary of the signing of the U.S. Constitution, Garland, who is Jewish, also told the story of his wife’s mother coming through the “Port of New York” in 1938, the year Hitler’s Army entered her native Austria.

“She, too, was able to live without fear of persecution,” he said. “That protection is what distinguishes America from so many other countries. The protection of law – the Rule of Law – is the foundation of our system of government.”

It was not the first time Garland, 69, has spoken publicly about his relatives’ Holocaust experience. He visibly fought back tears while discussing his grandparents fleeing pogroms at his confirmation hearings in the Senate Judiciary Committee last year. And in 2016, when he was nominated for the U.S. Supreme Court, Garland recalled his relatives “fleeing antisemitism and hoping to make a better life for their children in America,” saying: “My family deserves much of the credit for the path that led me here.”

The swearing-in came as partisan fights over immigration have flared up. Last week, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, a likely Republican presidential aspirant in 2024, arranged for 50 migrants to land on Martha’s Vineyard in a stunt aimed at testing the “sanctuary” policies of some heavily Democratic cities and states.

“We must not allow the fractures between us to fracture our democracy,” Garland told the new citizens, who came from countries including Albania, Ghana, Lebanon and Nepal.

“Overcoming the current polarization in our public life is, and will continue to be, a difficult task,” he said. “But we cannot overcome it by ignoring it. We must address the fractures in our society with honesty, with humility, and with respect for the rule of law.

“This demands that we tolerate peaceful disagreement with one another on issues of politics and policy. It demands that we listen to each other, even when we disagree. And it demands that we reject violence and threats of violence that endanger each other and endanger our democracy.”

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