In 1987 my wife Barbara was a member of the Board of CARECEN, the Central American Refugee Center in Washington, D.C. CARECEN was a significant activist organization helping to change American foreign policy vis a vis political asylum requests from El Salvadoran refugees fleeing the “Death Squads.” This band of murderers was killing leftists, labor union leaders, intellectuals, and Catholics (recall the murder of the four American nuns found on a road by US Ambassador Bob White under President Jimmy Carter).
President Reagan’s first act upon assuming office was to fire Ambassador White who had called Roberto D’Aubuisson a “pathological killer.” D’Aubuisson was an El Salvadoran soldier, an extreme right-wing politician and the leader of the death-squads. He was named by the UN-created Truth Commission for El Salvador as having ordered the assassination of Archbishop Óscar Romero in 1980.
Reagan’s firing of Bob White was not one of Reagan’s most shining moments. Those who remember, Reagan didn’t realize that every country in Central and South America was different!
The Reagan Administration had close ties with the El Salvadoran government and was not interested in publicly acknowledging that massive human rights abuses were being committed and countenanced.
Barbara was asked by the Director of CARECEN (she was the only Jew on the national board) to make contact with Elie Wiesel and try and engage him in this effort on behalf of El Salvadoran asylum seekers. Barbara succeeded in doing so and Wiesel made this now famous statement in the context of the El Salvadoran controversy – “No human being is illegal!”
The saying became the brand of CARACEN’s campaign on behalf of these refugees.
Given Trump’s immigrant ban and antipathy to Muslims, Elie Wiesel’s comment is as current as ever.