TEACHING “LE MARSEILLAISE” TO SALVADORANS

1. It’s Wednesday, January 10, 2018.

2. It’s the 110th birthday of actor Paul Henreid. Of course, he’s best known as Victor Laszlo, the heroic, but inconvenient, husband of Ilsa Lund in “Casablanca.” 

Two things I didn’t know about Henreid before I started working on this. One is that he, technically, was born in Italy – Trieste was Austrian when he was born there in 1908, but is Italian now.

Two is that, much like his most famous character, he hated Nazis.

Paul Henreid, who died in 1992, became a U.S. citizen during World War II. Sure, as an actor, America was the place to further a career. Nevertheless, Henreid is another of the millions of Americans who came here from places where oppression reigned.

3. Another of those places is El Salvador.

It’s one of the most dangerous countries in the world, so much so that violence is one of its exports. It’s the birthplace of MS-13, the gang that has moved into this country to terrorize teens in such places as Suffolk County, N.Y.

So, of course, the Trump administration plans to send 200,000 Salvadoran refugees back to a place where their chances for survival diminish to near zero.

It’s beyond preposterous.

The Temporary Protected Status that Salvadoran refugees have had in this country dates back to 2001 and President George W. Bush. That was the year of devastating earthquakes that forced thousands from their homes.

The Bush administration and that of President Barack Obama extended the status for one important reason: It would be inhumane to do otherwise. El Salvador devolved into a violent society, with the capital of San Salvador considered one of the most dangerous cities in the world.

It’s not politics to be humane. It takes a little bit of heart.

Of course, that would eliminate Trump, the comic book archvillains who surround him and the cowards who voted for and support him. Their attitude: If a person isn’t fair-skinned, speaks Spanish and wasn’t born here, they are of no value to you. Get them the hell out.

Most of the 200,000 Salvadoran exiles have created lives and families. They’ve become part of communities. They pay taxes – something Trump and his scummy ilk find beneath them.

4. What hope is there for these folks?

I can think of two things right now. One is yesterday’s ruling by a federal district judge in San Francisco halting the Trump move to get rid of children of undocumented immigrants.

The decision stalls plans to end the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program by March. Of course, Trump – who railed about this in a tweet this morning – will appeal the ruling. But there’s at least a chance that this draconian measure won’t go into effect on schedule, and that’s a good thing.

How does that affect the Salvadorans? Going to court is not a bad idea. At the very least, they can stall this forced exodus from the September 2019 deadline.

The second thing that could help is us, by voting.

The midterm election year is here. It’s time to get Trump’s Republican enablers in the House and Senate back under their rocks.

When Congress is united against these Trump indignities, when his henchmen and the occasional woman can’t leech from the American people as readily as they have for the past 355 days, then maybe somebody can remember to look out for people who contribute rather than embarrass our country.

A curmudgeonly mentor of mine said that you had to be a stone not to well with tears when Paul Henreid as Victor Laszlo leads the band at Rick’s in “La Marseillaise” in the middle of “Casablanca.”

Maybe 200,000 Salvadorans singing “La Marseillaise” would remind us that America has been about welcoming those who cherish peace and freedom. And for that a nation worthy of its claim as leader of the world, it needs to act accordingly.

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