A photo of Nison (aka Max) Miller stares out from the screen, sullen and stern, in faded black and white. “Order of Court Denying Petition” is the title of the government form dated “14th November 1932,” to which it is attached, the one in which Miller is applying for naturalization as an American citizen.
And beneath the photo, the reason given for his denial: Ignorance.
Nison Miller is the great-grandfather of White House adviser Stephen Miller, who has taken credit for being one of the chief architects of the administration’s family separation policy. And this 85-year-old document is just one bit of ammunition in a campaign being waged by the unofficial band that goes by the hashtag #Resistance Genealogy.
Believing that the past is prologue, they search online archives for nuggets about the ancestors of public figures and politicians who disparage today’s immigrants. They use tools they developed as a personal hobby to make the point that people like Miller are holding newcomers to a standard that their own forebears could not meet.
“Unless your ancestors came on a slave ship or you’re Native American,” you came here as an immigrant, says Jennifer Mendelsohn, who created the #resistancegenealogy hashtag last summer after Republican congressman Steve King or Iowa was quoted as saying “We can’t restore our civilization with somebody else’s babies.” So she went on a genealogy website and quickly documented that King’s own grandmother was one such baby, arriving in 1894 from Germany as a 4-year-old, along with her infant siblings.
“The point isn’t to play ‘gotcha,’” says Renee Stern Steinig, a former president of the Jewish Genealogy Society of Long Island, who first found the Miller naturalization application last summer. “It’s to show that we are a nation of immigrants, and you are here because someone else picked up and came here for a better life.” In fact, she is careful to point out that Miller’s great-grandfather being labeled “Ignorant” on that application was probably because he slipped up on a few questions on his citizenship test, not because he was in fact stupid or unworthy of being a citizen — an example of the same harsh, presumptive judgment that she believes is being used against today’s immigrants. Eventually he retook the test and became a citizen. [Continue reading…]