On February 20, DOJ reported that Friedrich Berger, a German citizen and erstwhile resident of Tennessee, had been removed to his homeland for his participation in Nazi-sponsored persecution during his service as a guard at a concentration camp near Hamburg in 1945. That case illustrates the logic behind the Trump administration's travel restrictions for certain aliens from 13 countries, which have been erroneously derided as a "Muslim ban".
Berger's case is complicated, as his travel to this country was somewhat circuitous, but here are the basics: He was serving in the German navy when he was sent to be a guard at the Meppen subcamp (a forced labor facility) of the Neuengamme concentration camp system near the war's end. The camp held Jewish prisoners, foreign nationals from Nazi-occupied countries, and political opponents of Hitler's regime.
In March 1945, allied forces were bearing down on the subcamp, and Berger guarded prisoners as they were forced to evacuate to the main camp — a harrowing journey that took two weeks, and in which 70 prisoners died. Hundreds of others were killed aboard two ships mistakenly bombed by the Royal Air Force while they were anchored in the Bay of Lubeck.
The British captured Berger in April 1945, and he was held as a prisoner of war until December of that year. In 1956, he moved with his wife and daughter to Canada, and in 1959, the family immigrated to the United States.
An index card summarizing Berger's work at the camp was found among about 2,000 discovered in one of the sunken ships years after it was bombed.
Berger was ordered deported under the "Holtzman amendment" to the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA). That 1978 amendment to the INA renders aliens who participated in Nazi persecution, among others, removable.
What does all of this have to do with the Trump travel restrictions? It justifies the late administration's implementation of those restrictions, and reveals the Biden administration's error in repealing them.
Opponents of those restrictions contended that they were motivated by religious animus, an argument that the Supreme Court shot down in upholding those restrictions in 2018. In reality, the focus of those restrictions was ensuring that the United States had sufficient information to assess the danger posed by any foreign national seeking to come to this country — not just those from the restricted nations.
I have explained this many times in the past — including to Congress — to no avail. That is likely partially due to the fact that Trump's opponents (including in the media) preferred the anti-Muslim narrative (which the last administration failed to effectively counter), but also because this is an abstract concept.
Berger's case illustrates vividly how information about an alien's past (and in particular, facts about which the alien has been less than forthcoming) can be crucial to the U.S. government's decision to admit that alien — or deport him or her.
Had it not been for the chance discovery of his index card on the sunken ship, Berger — who is 95 — would likely have lived out the rest of his life here. That would have been a disservice — not only to those whom Berger personally persecuted, but to all who suffered under the Nazi regime, and to every American who was willing to sacrifice life and limb to defeat the Axis.
Berger's deportation also serves notice to any other persecutor who is here or who seeks to come to the United States that they can never feel too safe, at least not in this republic, ever. Why is that important?
Allowing those who have deliberately and illegally harmed others to come to and remain in this country undermines our identity as a nation of immigrants (a phrase you hear tossed blithely around lately). We welcome those who have played by the rules — not those who are fleeing their own odious misdeeds. The warlord and the thug need not apply.
The problem is that the warlord and the thug will likely not identify themselves as such, particularly if they themselves are seeking refuge or asylum. Granting them haven is a slap in the face to their victims, as much as allowing a concentration camp guard to remain here is a disservice to the millions of victims of Nazi oppression.
The Trump travel restrictions would not necessarily have been 100 percent effective in separating the wheat from the chaff, but they were a whole lot more effective than the screening processes that were in effect before, and than the ones we have now that they have been repealed. We cannot rely on the fortuitous post-hoc discovery of documents that reveal the true facts about an alien's sinister past.