Sebastian Haffner was a young law clerk in Berlin, studying up for a case, when the SA officer came into the law library and demanded that all Jews leave. The red-faced Nazi’s shouts tore through the quiet hush of law clerks bent over musty books in companionable silence, secure in their trust that the rule of law would see their country through the baffling rise of a small-time “pimp,” as Haffner describes Hitler.
As Haffner and his colleagues looked on, several clerks rose to their feet and left the room. On resisted and was dragged out. The SA officer approached Haffner and demanded to know if he was Jewish. Haffner replied in the negative. The Nazis left. Haffner describes the shame and anger that flowed through is body. It had all happened so fast, he hadn’t had time to react. He should have stood up, shouted at the Nazis, demanded that they leave the law library where they had no right to be. Instead, he just sat there.
If DACA expires, thousands of young people in college campuses will loose their legal status and be subject to deportation. Will the Trump administration actually order ICE to deport them? After all, what is the logic behind withdrawing their status if deportation does not follow? Was the point of the law to create more illegality, to simply leave people without a status in the United States? I’m not sure the Republicans are quite ready for what that would mean.
Imagine you are sitting in the quiet library of your school, studying. Around you, dozens of your classmates sit in companionable silence. You’ve heard that ICE is starting to arrest Dreamers. There are rumors they might even come to your school, but so far, the politics of DACA are something that have been happening in the newspapers but have yet to touch your life. Midterms are just around the corner and your mind is mostly occupied by worries about your grades.
Suddenly, two armed ICE agents appear at the door of the library, accompanied by the librarian. You know the agents are from ICE because it says so in big letters on their jackets.
On the other side of the room from you, a young woman with long hair gets to her feet. She seems to know what’s happening. The entire room watches in silence as the two ICE agents wind their way between the desks towards her. There is a hushed conversation, then the young woman grabs her book bag and follows them to the door. Behind you, a girl you know vaguely from physics class rises to her feet.
“Hey!” the girl shouts. “Where are you taking her?”
One of the ICE agents turns. “Sit down, please, miss. We’re here on official government business.” Then the two agents and the girl with the long hair turn and exit the room. You never see them again.
Of course, every American knows that the above scene is total fiction and would never happen. It boggles the mind to think that a bunch of American college students would sit quietly in a library while ICE agents combed their school for DACA recipients. This is a nation where college students will protest what’s being served for lunch.
When you read Defying Hitler, you can tell that Haffner never recovered from that moment. Like Lord Jim, the idea that he could have, and should have, done something, at least register a word of protest, at least stand up and be heard even if it changed nothing. The fact that when put to the test, he did nothing clearly haunted him to the end of his life. But the culture in Germany did not support civil disobedience and the Nazis had already shown themselves capable of terrible violence against any and all resistance. Had Haffner said anything, it’s likely the SA officer would have beaten him to a bloody pulp without thinking twice about it.
I suspect that young American citizens in college campuses might not be so quiet and cooperating when ICE comes to call. After all, an ICE agent isn’t going to attack an American college student in front of a bunch of witnesses. This isn’t Nazi Germany, not even close. In fact, this country has a long, proud history of protest and civil disobedience, particularly on college campuses, and a long history of relative tolerance of these protest. During my lifetime, such protests have usually been limited to rather tame affairs involving events happening in foreign countries. But if ICE starts coming for Dreamers on college campuses, in offices and workplaces, I guarantee you this will change, fast.
Are the Republicans ready for this? I don’t think that they are.