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Statelessness: An Examination of the US Border Crisis Through the Context of Anne Frank

By Megan Whitson & Bryson Godby


The Diary of Anne Frank is impossible to read without the context in which it was composed. Despite being a teenager–or because of it–Frank presents ideas of isolation, entrapment, and most of all, a loss of nationality and national identity. It is important to not conflate two unrelated issues, but it is impossible to read Frank’s treatise on stateless life as a young girl without considering the injustices and prejudices that have occurred within immigration, specifically immigration located at the United States Southern Border. 

Statelessness as a commonality between Anne Frank’s experience and the experiences of United States’ Southern Border immigrants is notable in the following quote from Frank: “Fine specimens of humanity, those Germans, and to think I’m actually one of them! No, that’s not true, Hitler took away our nationality long ago” (60-61). Clearly, the specifics are different: Hitler purposefully removed Jews’ nationalities. However, the result functions much the same. Undocumented immigrants effectively lose their recognition by their state upon entry to the US. The promise of having a “state” is a promise of having somewhere one’s humanity can be recognized within a legal and systemic structure. Statelessness not only removes this particular access to personhood but, by proxy, it also removes the personal validation and security of having one’s humanity being recognized. Stateless individuals exist in a liminal space where they are aware they are people–and they are–but without any guaranteed higher court to ensure it, humanity remains largely in limbo. 

Unfortunately, this statelessness does waive responsibility. “We’ve been strongly reminded that we’re Jews in chains, chained to one spot, without any rights, but with a thousand obligations” (Frank 282). Anne Frank’s use of the words “chained” and “chains” are interesting and in many ways, quite prescient. Oftentimes, undocumented immigrants cross the Southern border only to find themselves essentially enslaved to a job or a life (the “obligations”) that ensures them the least chance of being deported or detained. For many, it is better to have some freedom without being recognized as human than to lose both once ICE knocks on their door. Undocumented immigrants must also commonly pay taxes and feign patriotism despite living in a country that does nothing for them in return. Undocumented immigrants contribute greatly to the workforce and the economy but receive no legal recognition, and no recognition at all beyond their use in a war over immigration reforms.

In addition to the discrimination immigrants face, the issues surrounding the US Border Crisis have hit a peak in prior years as a result of the rising number of refugees and the conditions in which these individuals must reside. The Los Angeles Times reported on these conditions, “Migrants who cross the border illegally wait under open skies or sometimes in tents or structures made of tree branches while short on food and water. When the number of migrants was particularly high last year, they waited for several days for Border Patrol agents to arrest and process them” (Santana 2024). Conditions for detained refugees do not prove to hold much improvement as many have been held in border camps–camps which, many report, are not held to a high standard of health or humanity. While legislation has been passed this month in order to improve the conditions of refugees by offering an enhanced standard for living, the presence of these camps in the lives of many immigrants has served as something both degrading and oppressive. Also, though these camps served different purposes, one cannot deny the particular hand government “camps” held in terms of dehumanization, especially within the context of Anne Frank and the atrocities of the concentration camps. 

Being caught in a political battle with no say is a constant reminder of the undocumented immigrant’s lack of political agency and thus lack of recognition of their humanity. However, it cannot be understated that the majority of this psychological harm comes from the side that derides them as “animals” with “some” being good people. Race is clearly a factor just as it was for the Jews of Frank’s time. “Specifically, those who do not ‘look’ American are assumed to be foreigners who possess different moral and value systems” (Armenta 21). Simply, if someone does not “pass” as American (which can also be read as “white”), they must by default be “lesser than.” Obviously, this is untrue. But the echoes of dehumanization techniques—like how the Nazis claimed that the Jews had true allegiance to themselves and not the nation they reside in—is alive in the modern era with the assertion that someone’s foreignness makes them a threat. 

Furthermore, the current issue of the US border crisis and The Diary of Anne Frank both wrestle with a common, but colossal enemy: the denied right of statehood and recognition of humanity as it is observed by Western Culture. 




References 

Armenta, Angel D., et al. “Wounds That Never Heal: The Proliferation of Prejudice Toward Immigrants in the United States.” Trauma and Racial Minority Immigrants: Turmoil, Uncertainty, and Resistance, edited by Pratyusha Tummala-Narra, American Psychological Association, 2021, pp. 15–30. JSTOR, http://www.jstor.org/stable/j.ctv1dwq1w7.7.


Frank, Anne. Diary of a Young Girl. Bantam Books, 1991.


Santana, Rebecca. “Border Patrol must care for migrant children who wait in camps for processing, a judge says.” The Los Angeles Times, 2024, Border Patrol must care for migrant children in camps, judge says - Los Angeles Times (latimes.com)


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