download (3)With Election Day approaching and Donald Trump being given a realistic chance to win the election for President of the United States, it’s time to revisit Trump’s signature policy: his proposal to deport the roughly 11 million undocumented immigrants residing in the United States to their countries of origin. This proposal has many of us thinking of Nazi Germany, and the deportation of 11 million Holocaust victims to the Nazi death camps. But as just about any comparison to the Nazis is extreme, I’ve been considering other historical examples of mass deportation. And 1492 comes to mind.

Before considering 1492, let’s focus for a moment on the present day. As with many of Trump’s proposed policies, it’s not entirely clear exactly what kind of mass deportation Trump means to implement if he’s elected. At certain points during this election season, Trump appears to have pulled back from the idea of mass deportation. But in his most recent statements, Trump has reverted to a hard line:

Under my administration, anyone who illegally crosses the border will be detained until they are removed out of our country and back to the country from which they came. And you can call it deported if you want. The press doesn’t like that term. You can call it whatever the hell you want. They’re gone.


Trump’s plan would start with the immediate roundup and expulsion of “illegal immigrants who are arrested for any crime whatsoever.” Whether he’s talking about serious crime or traffic tickets is not clear. Trump has also claimed that “62 percent of households headed by illegal immigrants” receive some welfare or food stamps, a “tremendous cost to our country” and “will be priorities for immediate removal.” (The truth is that undocumented immigrants are ineligible to receive welfare and food stamps, and each year pay billions of dollars in payroll taxes for benefits they will never receive.) Trump estimates that at least 2 million people residing in the United States fall into one of his “priority” categories for immediate deportation.

But the hard fact is, Trump’s proposals point to the forced deportation of all 11 million immigrants in the United States without documentation. Trump rejects any “path to citizenship” for these immigrants, save for the possible readmission of immigrants after their deportation. Trump has even called for the deportation of the children of these immigrants who were born in the United States and are thus American citizens under the provisions of the U.S. Constitution. Moreover, Trump has made it clear that he wants these deportations to be completed quickly, over a two-year span.

Which brings us back to 1492. Mention 1492 to most Americans, and they’ll think of Christopher Columbus. But many Jews know that 1492 has a second meaning. 1492 was the year that Spain ordered the immediate expulsion of its Jewish population.

Here is the briefest of histories. The Jewish people enjoyed a “golden age” in Spain during its period of Muslim rule in the 8th to 11th centuries, and this age extended even into the early years of the Christian reconquest of Spain. But by the mid-1300s, Spanish Christians made concerted efforts to force Jews to convert to Christianity. These efforts achieved theretofore unprecedented success, and by the early 1400s perhaps half of Spanish Jewry had converted to Christianity. But Spain was not prepared to accept and absorb so many “New Christians.” The fear arose that these New Christians were continuing to practice Judaism in secret, and that Spain’s remaining Jews were seeking to reconvert their former fellow religionists. By the 1480s, the Church established the Spanish Inquisition to watch over this situation, and the Inquisition (led by Father Tomas de Torquemada) concluded that Spain’s Jews needed to be segregated from its Christians. By March of 1492, Spain’s rulers (King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella) concluded that even physical separation was not enough, and they ordered all Jews to leave Spain by the end of July of that year.

Today, historians dispute the severity and scope of the Spanish Expulsion. There is rough agreement that perhaps 100,000 Jews were forced to have Spain in 1492. By some accounts, thousands or tens of thousands of Jewish refugees died in the Spanish expulsion. In his famous work “Jews, G-d and History,” Max Dumont estimates that there were 150,000 Jews remianing in Spain in 1492, of which 50,000 converted to Christianity, 100,000 left Spain and 10,000 died en route from Spain. No one counted the Jews who stayed and those who left, so I’ll follow Dumont’s numbers for the moment.

We have first-hand accounts of the Spanish Expulsion. This is from a Spanish Jew, writing from Italy in 1495:

They sold their houses, their landed estates, and their cattle for very small prices, to save themselves. The King [of Spain] did not allow them to carry silver and gold out of his country, so that they were compelled to exchange their silver and gold for merchandise of cloths and skins and other things. One hundred and twenty thousand of them went to Portugal, [where the King] acted much worse toward them than the King of Spain, [making] slaves of all those that remained in his country … He also ordered the congregation of Lisbon, his capital, not to raise their voice in their prayers, that the Lord might not hear their complaining about the violence that was done unto them. Many of the exiled Spaniards went to Mohammedan countries, to Fez, Tlemçen, and the Berber provinces, under the King of Tunis. On account of their large numbers the Moors did not allow them into their cities, and many of them died in the fields from hunger, thirst, and lack of everything … When the edict of expulsion became known in the other countries, vessels came from Genoa to the Spanish harbors to carry away the Jews. The crews of these vessels, too, acted maliciously and meanly toward the Jews, robbed them, and delivered some of them to the famous pirate of that time who was called the Corsair of Genoa. To those who escaped and arrived at Genoa the people of the city showed themselves merciless, and oppressed and robbed them, and the cruelty of their wicked hearts went so far that they took the infants from the mothers’ breasts. [Elsewhere, some Jews] died by famine, others sold their children to Christians to sustain their life. Finally, a plague broke out among them, spread to Naples, and very many of them died, so that the living wearied of burying the dead.

Christian accounts of the expulsion paint a similar picture. The following account is from a Catholic priest:

Within the terms fixed by the edict of expulsion, the Jews sold and disposed of their property for a mere nothing. They went about asking Christians to buy and found no buyers. Fine houses and estates were sold for trifles; a house was exchanged for a mule, and a vineyard given for a little cloth or linen. The rich Jews paid the expenses of the departure of the poor, practicing toward each other the greatest charity, so that they would not become converts. In the first week of July they took the route for quitting their native land, great and small, old and young, on horses and in carts. They experienced great trouble; some falling, others rising; some dying and others being born; some being stricken with illness. Christians along the way persuaded them to be baptized, but those who converted were very few.

Granted, our sources are sketchy, and even if we had better information about the Spanish Expulsion, we shouldn’t assume that a proposed present-day mass deportation would closely resemble one that took place 500 years ago. But I think we can draw some general conclusions from the Spanish Expulsion, particularly since the same conclusions emerge from any examination of the Nazi mass deportations:

  • Deportees will be forced to dispose much of their property at great personal loss. Remember that Trump proposes to deport millions of people in a short space of time. These people will not be able to take their homes with them, and probably not their cars either. All possessions that cannot fit in a few suitcases will have to be sold. With millions of people all selling their stuff at the same time, prices will be (to paraphrase the priest’s description above) “a mere nothing.” Those remaining in the U.S. will benefit from these “bargains” (a better word than “benefit” might be “theft”), but not all Americans will benefit. For example: what do you imagine will happen to new car sales, with so many used cars dumped on the market for next to nothing? What do you think will happen to our auto workers as a result?


  • Deportees will struggle to find new homes in new lands. Here’s a lesson that Jews know: just because the country where you live seeks to deport you, doesn’t mean there’s another country just waiting out there to take you in. As reported above, many Jews expelled from Spain set out for cities and countries that eventually refused to accept them. The many Jews who left Spain for Portugal were expelled from Portugal (or forced to convert to Christianity) just a few years later. And here’s a fact that many Jews and most Christians do not know: before Hitler determined to murder the Jews under his rule, he tried to force them to emigrate. Most of these Jews were more than willing to leave Nazi rule, but few were able to find other countries willing to take them in.


  • Deportees will die in great numbers. While we don’t know how many Jews died in the Spanish expulsion, it’s reasonable to guess (as did Dumont) that 10% of the Spanish Jewish refugees died in the process of trying to find a new home. We can pray that the survival rate under Trump’s deportation will be higher than this! But we also have to be realistic. The very young, the very old, the sick and the infirm are going to suffer the worst under forced deportation. Even if I can muster the optimism to hope that things are better today for refugees than they were 500 years ago, it’s still going to be the case that many of Trump’s refugees will be killed in the course of his deportation effort. How many? My guess is in the hundreds of thousands. The risks Jews faced 500 years ago on their journeys from Spain—extreme weather, disease, bandits and thieves, rip-off artists and the hostility of potential new neighbors—are still with us today, and their deadly potential has not diminished.


The election is six days from now. The talk of this campaign season has been about sexual misconduct and emails, but not about the suffering of potentially millions of American-made refugees. I know, I know, this is supposed to be a blog about religion and not politics. But when the Bible commands us (over and over and over again) to treat the stranger in our midst with kindness—without regard for how the stranger crossed our border into our midst—isn’t this something that Jews and Christians should be talking about?

  • Darrin Hunter


    • That maple leaf fluttering in the breeze looks awfully good right now.

  • Anthony Le Donne

    an excellent article, Larry.

  • msl613

    Excellent! Thank you.

  • Stephanie Barbé Hammer

    Amen. This opens up complicated and important questions about difference, transnationalism, and human rights. And history. Andalusian Spain is a fascinating case of coexistence between the big Three.

    • Yes. And this was recognized and appreciated even at the time. Until the late fourteenth century, residents of Spain referred to this coexistence as “convivencia,” peacefully living together.

  • Anthony Le Donne

    Larry, it occurs to me after reflecting on this a bit that the question of cost is paramount. If for the sake of argument we agree on the ideal that every person in the US has crossed the border legally (or, short of this ideal, that every person who is presently in the US is properly documented), what cost are we willing to pay to make this ideal a reality? Or frame it this way: if we could magically vanish all undocumented persons from the US, but it came at the cost of mass human suffering, would we still want said ideal? And how much human suffering would it take to get us to question the ideal or its enactment?

    • Anthony, it sounds to me as if you are framing this question as a classic cost-benefit analysis. I agree, this is one important way to consider the question. But before considering cost, monetary and otherwise, it’s probably wise to consider the benefit Trump is trying to achieve.

      I don’t think Trump would agree that the desired benefit is for everyone residing in the United States to be documented, because this benefit could be achieved at relatively low cost by providing a “path to citizenship.” Instead, the desired benefit seems to be to create a situation in fact whereby no non-citizen can live in the United States who has not legally established residence here. The desired benefit, then, is not to get everyone documented, but to remove everyone who is not documented, and to make certain that there is no future undocumented population. (Hence, Trump’s proposed wall along the U.S.-Mexican border.)

      The next step, I would imagine, is to consider whether Trump’s “benefit” is really a benefit at all. If I understand, Trump believes that undocumented U.S. residents are taking jobs from U.S. citizens, and are devouring an unfair share of government benefits. Problem is, there doesn’t seem to be any proof that undocumented U.S. residents are a drain on our economy or are negatively affecting our overall economic quality of life. We might then consider less concrete arguments, such is that “we don’t have a country” unless we make certain that no one can live here who has not immigrated here in accordance with our rules. But it is impossible, of course, to calculate the benefit of “having” or “not having” a country.

      It therefore becomes impossible to calculate what cost we would be willing to pay for this uncertain and ill-defined “benefit.” Instead, we might simply add up the projected costs without trying to compute the attendant benefits. but the problem here is twofold. First, in the absence of a concrete plan, we don’t have a clue what this would cost. It is a bit like asking how much it would cost to to get everyone to drive at or below posted speed limits? All you can practically do is hire however many more traffic cops you think you can afford, and hope for the best. The second problem is, we cannot rationally consider costs in the billions of dollars (and certainly, we are talking about cost of this range). With regard to a desired but unquantifiable benefit, can we rationally say that the benefit is worth $100 billion but not $400 billion? No. Our brains stop functioning when costs exceed amounts we encounter in our own lives.

      So, I think we are best off not asking questions about “acceptable cost” in this area. Instead, I find the clearest way to think about this issue is in terms of how cruel we are willing to be, and how much pain we are willing to inflict.

  • Dear Larry, what an effort you have made to put this one question at a distance from us. It is unfortunately not at a distance.

    We are utterly confused up north here now, as to how some apparently significant percentage of your compatriots could not have seen through this man immediately. Most of us, whether Christian, or Jew, or Muslim, or atheist saw the incompetence and poor judgment of this man from the beginning. Some who call themselves by the name of Christ here did not see. I talked to one whose forceful opinions were abhorrent to me. But we are all capable of being abhorrent. He asked me such simplistic questions and had his own immediate response that I saw no polite entry point into his thought process. He is 1% of us here, not a representative of anything near 40%. While he was rude and immature in my judgment, he was not libelous nor did he participate, and I expect he would not, in chants of ‘Lock her up’ or similar slogans.

    Who will turn off this mass hysteria? Would the army or national guard obey such an order to supervise 300+ buses per day for two years evicting people and crossing borders? This sounds like something out of Roman history – even more distant from our social structure. And who could say we have nothing to fear if we are law-abiding? (Romans 13:3 – not one of Paul’s best moments. Anthony Le Donne will come to this soon in his Romans review.) We certainly would fear, whether we were law abiding or not, such a leader, and anyone who thinks he would be controllable should hope that the American people can make a good choice before November the 8th as our own prime minister has hoped with his expressed trust in your process.

    It is more than ironic that more Mexicans today are returning to Mexico for business opportunities than were coming to America when the North American free trade agreement was signed. This partnership among our three countries has had the effect of improving their standard of living. A good result. We hope that such agreements will have such an impact and create good judgment about wealth and reliable exchange of goods among us, not just opportunities for warlords or successful or failed business tycoons.

    I hope this note is not incoherent. It is very hard to remain coherent in the current atmosphere. Words no matter how carefully chosen seem to evaporate into the air and to be turned against the other side of the argument as if there were no possibility of choice. Hillary is as trustworthy as any politician in the US. She is not a heretic who prefers only her own gain. Her unpopularity is to my northern mind largely constructed by the persistent lies and accusations of her opponents. I may or may not like the private foundation system in the US, but I know how hard it is to distribute grant money from foundations in any case. (Giving money away and accounting for it to stakeholders is hard work.) And that such foundations are at the base of the US system of philanthropy does not make them necessarily good or bad.

    So is this rant prayer or worry. Both I suspect. The end of Hosea 11 (9-11) promises that Hashem will not enter the city (to destroy it): I will not undertake my fierce anger nor return Ephraim to destruction, for I am God and not man, and near you is the Holy One, so I will not enter into into the city.

    So we to the north of you hope, in spite of our apprehensiveness.

    • Bob, I am making an effort to speak in a way that others can hear. If you’ve read my prior post on Election Anxiety Disorder, you know that I’ve received comments, even from people who agree with me, that I’m speaking with too much partisanship. I’ve heard the same thing about my speech in favor of full LGBTQ+ inclusiveness, that my stridency drives away people whose minds are open and who might otherwise agree with me if I’d just get off my soapbox.

      Truth is, I’m not one to pound on the podium. It is generally my goal to speak in calm and measured tones, and to seek out arguments that don’t drive away those I might be able to persuade. At the same time, I think it’s my obligation to say where I’m coming from. I don’t think I’ve left any doubt that I support Hillary. In my non-blog life, I served as a county delegate for her (one of many).

      I’ve decided that I can be more of a rabble-rousing advocate for Hillary on Facebook. I don’t know about dividing myself up in this way, and I’ll have to think about whether I did the right thing post-election.

      As for my assessment of what is going on to your south … I don’t have much to add that you haven’t already read. Religion-wise, the polls say that this election looks very similar to what we’ve seen for the past 8 years. Non-Christians support Hillary in massive numbers. Black and Hispanic Christians support Hillary in massive numbers. Mormons loathe Trump but have not embraced Hillary. White Catholics supported Hillary by a narrow margin, though this may have changed in recent weeks. White Protestants support Trump in the numbers they typically support Republican candidates. If you simply removed the self-declared White evangelical vote from the equation, Hillary wins by a massive margin–just as she wins if we could somehow prevent whites or men from voting. But this isn’t simply a matter of white Protestants self-describing as evangelical if they vote Republican, because so-called mainline Protestants also support Trump by about a 10% margin (obviously, the designation “mainline” includes both politically liberal and conservative denomination). The election will be decided by small shifts in well-established demographic patterns.

      It is nice to hear someone express faith in our process of choosing a leader. To be honest, I don’t see any way of sharing in that faith except perhaps after the fact. Four days before the end of this process, I am scared to death, and the nature of the process offers me no comfort.

      • Thank you for your heartfelt response. My memory and my writing are far from perfect. Here is what I heard our current prime minister say or something like it: his faith in the American people: “I have tremendous confidence in what Abraham Lincoln referred to as ‘the better angels of our nature.” Naturally he was sidestepping the direct question. Personally I hope we can come away from this without the fear and with ‘better angels’ intact. The process may turn out to be what it needed to be under these stressful conditions. I guess we will see.