“I had family who died in the gas chambers,” said Dmitri Loutsik, the son of Russian immigrants whose anger could be heard through his blend of Russian and Virginian accents.
“So did I,” State College Borough Councilman Evan Myers replied in kind over the boisterous room.
This heated exchange happened during the Immigration Town Hall last night when Myers compared proposals to register residents in America along ethnic and religious lines to the early days of registration of Jews leading up to the Holocaust.
Myers was quick to remind the crowd he hoped nothing along those lines would ever happen — but to think they never could is a slippery slope.
Attendees also questioned State College Mayor Elizabeth Goreham, Councilman Jesse Barlow, and Ferguson Township Board Member Laura Dininni about how they’ve handled the wave of immigration fears since President Donald Trump was elected.
Bull-Moose Party (Students for Trump) Chairman Elliot Jersild told Myers his statements about the Holocaust were ignorant. “When people compare Trump’s executive orders to the Holocaust, it pisses me off,” Jersild said after the meeting. He said the Holocaust was different since people knew what Hitler wanted to do based on what he had written in Mein Kampf.
“Whether it be in here or on a street corner, for you to call someone’s ideas ignorant is a way of shouting them down,” Myers told Jersild, likely referring to recent protests at Allen Street Gates.
Natalia Myers, who organized the event, said she’s worried about how the recent executive action will affect immigrants in the country who are here to study. “We shouldn’t be closing our borders to those who can enhance our communities because of national origin,” she said.
Besides robust debate on how the Holocaust might apply to our current situation in America, the panel of officials explained the fiscal impacts disobeying federal law could bring. Pennsylvania State Senate Bill 10 (SB-10) proposes to take away state funding of “sanctuary cities.” Sanctuary cities, though not clearly defined by law, are basically cities where the local government has pledged not to aid deportation forces.
“We get very, very, very little direct aid from the state,” Goreham said.
Myers said the financial impacts disobeying the potential executive orders would bring is unclear and won’t be clear until they happen. For now, he will act on what he sees as morally correct and deal with the impacts as they arise, he added.
Loutsik asked why the Council would disobey the orders if they would have negative repercussions on residents, saying the Council “wouldn’t be able to stop the [Immigration and Customs Enforcement] (ICE) if they came to town anyway.”
Barlow responded by first agreeing with Loutsik, saying New York and San Francisco are much more devoted to sanctuary status than State College, and even they can’t stop ICE raids.
Barlow also told attendees the Council doesn’t oppose ICE officials, but instead is implementing practices to make State College residents feel safe.
For example, State College Police don’t ask about residents’ immigration status. This policy lets everyone feel safe in reporting crime so no one in the community feels vulnerable, Barlow said.