Reprinted with permission from AlterNet.
For the past few days, Donald Trump has spent much of his time on social media railing against immigrants and DACA, a policy his tweets prove he does not understand even a little bit. While the president persists in riling his base with nonexistent immigration boogeymen, the real deal dwells just hours from the White House. Jakiw Palij is an actual criminal immigrant who lied about his murderous Nazi background in order to get American citizenship, and is now living out his final years on a “leafy, tree-lined street” in Queens, New York. Despite efforts by local lawmakers to have Palij deported, the 94-year-old remains in the U.S., unmentioned in Trump’s rants and unmolested by ICE agents.
Palij was reportedly a guard at the Treblinka death camp, where 6,000 Jews were murdered. He was also a member of the armed forces at Trawniki extermination camp, where participants in “Operation Reinhard,” an ambiguously named plan to massacre two million Polish Jews, were trained. According to the Daily Beast, German wartime records indicate that Palij took part in the bloody 1943 Warsaw ghetto liquidation. After initially denying allegations by the DOJ Office of Special Investigations, Palij signed a 2001 affidavit “confirming his Nazi service.” By tate’d been living in the U.S. by that time more than 50 years, having previously lied about being a humble farmer in his native Poland. In 2003, a federal judge removed Palij’s U.S. citizenship, and one year later a court ordered him deported to Ukraine.
That problem is that Ukraine refuses to take him, as do officials in both Germany and Poland. Palij cannot be tried in U.S. courts because he is no longer a U.S. citizen, and his World War II crimes were committed far from American soil. Jakiw Palij is one of 11 Nazi war criminals ordered out of the country since 2005, nearly all of whom have remained in the U.S. until their deaths. (One was successfully sent to Germany where he died in a nursing home, his body later buried in an Ohio cemetery.) As ICE steps up arrests of noncriminal immigrants, including an honorably discharged Army veteran, the father of a terminally ill child, farmworkers being paid next to nothing, and a college science professor, Palij continues to quietly live out his days in Queens.
The difference in Palij’s case results not just from foreign resistance to his being deported.
“The real issue is whether it’s a priority for anyone at the State Department, and generally I don’t think it has been,” Stephen Paskey, a former DOJ prosecutor who led government cases against other Nazi criminals, told the Daily Beast. “I don’t know for certain what they’ve done, but I think the results speak for themselves.”
In October 2017, 70 members of the New York State Assembly sent a letter to Attorney General Jeff Sessions demanding Palij’s removal from the U.S. Four months later, every member of the New York State Congress signed a letter to then-Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, urging Palij’s deportation. A press release from Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand’s office states that the missive requested that Tillerson “pay personal attention to this issue, prioritize it and take decisive action to complete this already-ordered deportation.”
“Removing Mr. Palij from American soil will send a message not only to the citizens of New York, but to the entire world,” the letter noted. “It will make clear that the United States does not condone hatred and will not shelter those who have committed atrocities against innocents.”
While responses to New York legislators from both the DOJ and the State Department include statements in support of Palij’s removal, both agencies indicated that officials in Germany, Poland and Ukraine had refused to negotiate the case further, and suggested there was little more that could be done at this time.
Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer has implied the Trump administration should get involved to move the dial.
“The 13 years that Mr. Palij has stayed in this country since he was stripped of his U.S. citizenship and ordered to be deported is 13 years too many,” Schumer told the Washington Post late last year. “The State Department and the entire Trump administration ought to treat this with the attention it deserves and try everything at their disposal to carry out the court order and remove this former Nazi guard from our country.”
New York Assemblymember Dov Hikind, the child of two Holocaust survivors, told the Daily Beast he has been “pushing every button imaginable” to get Palij tossed out of the country, and claims “we even got in touch with the son-in-law [Jared Kushner].” The fact that nothing has come of it is a particularly bitter pill considering this administration’s dedication to law and order, and its practice of ejecting immigrants who’ve helped make this country a better place.
“You know, we’re throwing people out of this country who have been living here for 20 years and have families, and here we have a Nazi living in Queens,” Hikind told the Daily Beast. “How can that be? How is this possible?”
Kali Holloway is a senior writer and the associate editor of media and culture at AlterNet.