Home Invasions: It Happened to North Forker Albert Einstein in Berlin

Albert Einstein, immigrant
Albert Einstein, immigrant, Photo: iStock.com

Late Thursday night, a few days after the announcement of new immigration guidelines from the Department of Homeland Security, I talked to immigration lawyer Christopher Worth, who’d spoken during a meeting in Greenport about immigration. Such meetings have been taking place all over the East End to discuss this and most are very emotional affairs, heavily attended by Hispanics who, under the circumstances, want to know what to do.

Mr. Worth told me how things stand. But first I want to tell you about a man who is arguably the most famous person who ever lived on the North Fork and what happened to him in circumstances like these.

That famous person was Albert Einstein. At the time, he and his wife were living in their home in Berlin, near the university where he worked.

It was 1931, and a new authoritarian figure was coming to power who said if elected he would brand all Jews criminals, revoke their German citizenship and deport them. Soon thereafter, in the middle of the night, government agents with guns broke into the Einstein home, awakened them, demanded to see their papers and told them they wanted the weapons the Einsteins were harboring. Einstein told them there weren’t any, but the thugs searched the house anyway, and returned to the couple brandishing two long cutting knives they’d found in the kitchen. These were the weapons, they told Einstein. And they left with them.

Later, Einstein told his wife, Elsa, “Look long on this place, for you will not see it again anytime soon.”

They fled to America. Much later, Einstein spent the summer of 1939 in a small cottage on the North Fork of Long Island, where he worked on his theories and, famously, wrote a letter to President Roosevelt, urging him to authorize scientists to create an atomic bomb.

Safe on the East End, Einstein enjoyed sailing in his catboat in Peconic Bay and playing classical music on his violin with a local string quartet that met in one or another of their homes once a week. Nassau Point, Einstein’s home, was and is just a few miles from the meeting of terrified people talking about the new immigration guidelines in the Greenport auditorium Thursday night.

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“Guidelines have changed,” Worth told me. “In the earlier guidelines, not all people without status were a priority for removal. Only new arrivals, gang members, terrorists or people with significant criminal histories were. Now the priorities have been vastly expanded to include anyone who has ever committed any crime, no matter how minor, anyone who has been charged with a crime that has not been resolved, anyone who entered the U.S. without inspection and anyone who ICE determines to ‘pose a risk to public safety or national security’ is considered a priority for removal.’”

“Despite what sounds like a much wider net, in reality ICE is still targeting mostly individuals who have either a serious criminal record, or a less-serious criminal record but also a prior deportation order,” he continued. “That’s all. False rumors abound about checkpoints, mass enforcement and home raids, but we’re just not seeing that happen yet. People should remain calm and take preparatory steps like collecting important documents, figuring out childcare in the event of a deportation and understanding your immigration status or any forms of relief. But it isn’t helpful to promote hysteria with false rumors. People are very scared right now, and it’s important that everyone understand that so far, ICE has not been rounding up people who have had no prior interaction with law enforcement.”

ICE agents may be in uniform or in plain clothes. They carry guns. They can approach people on their lists at their places of work, while in their cars or at the places where they live, day or night. The Immigrant Defense Project and the Center for Constitutional Rights published a report (the IDP Report) this year alleging that during its history ICE has lied about who they are to gain access to private property. One ruse in the report was to call the person at home and say the local police would like you to come down to the station so they can review your paperwork. When the person went to the station, the ICE agents were waiting in front of the police station to take the person into custody.

Keep the doors to your home locked. If an ICE agent comes to your home, he is supposed to identify himself as such, but they often announce that they are the police—a practice sometimes opposed by local law enforcement but not impermissible. You have the right to not let the agent in unless he has a warrant signed by a judge. Ask, through the door, to have the agent show you the warrant. If it is not signed, or if it just an administrative warrant signed by someone who is not a judge, you have the right to not let him in. So do not. But if you do, by opening the door to talk to ICE, they can argue that you gave them consent to enter the house and conduct a search—consent is considered equal to a warrant. With a proper warrant an ICE agent can come in and look for the person whose name is on the warrant, or whatever else the warrant says, for example, documents relating to the person’s immigration status or nationality.

Once inside, ICE agents may question anybody, including women and children, if they have a reasonable suspicion that the person is in the United States without status. But everyone has the right to remain silent. Everyone has the ability to calmly and politely say that they don’t want to answer questions.

According to the IDP Report, under Obama, ICE agents were instructed not to go after “collaterals,” that is, people who are undocumented who they are not looking for (who is not named on the warrant). The fear in immigrant communities now is that ICE will start targeting “collaterals” for deportation. Thankfully, in our area, there have not been reports of “collaterals” arrested in the course of targeted enforcement by ICE.

Being detained means being taken out to a car and driven to the nearest ICE detention center with available space. There is no detention facility on Long Island at the present time, so if you are arrested by ICE you will be driven to Kearney, New Jersey, where there is an ICE detention center that houses detainees. There are also jails in upstate New York, and all over the country, if there is no room in the Kearney facility.

You will spend the night in jail, then, so long as you are not subject to expedited removal, within a number of days be given a date for what is known as a “master calendar hearing,” typically a week or two later. You can be bailed out, if not considered a flight risk or a danger to the community. The minimum bail is $1,500. At the appearance before a judge, you will be told of your “trial date” which is still further on. If you remain in jail, you will be able to receive visitors and make phone calls. You should, by that time, have made contact with an attorney who can take your case. Those who can’t afford an attorney can call Catholic Charities or Hofstra Law School or possibly Truro Law School where free or cheaper representation may be available.

For the bond hearing, you can apply for an expedited hearing date, but this could backfire. It might be better to allow for the time to pass to best prepare for this, because in most instances a detainee only has one opportunity to apply for bond before an immigration judge—if the person is eligible for bond in the first instance.

In immigration court, and only in immigration court, can you apply for a “cancellation of removal.” People who have been continuously in America for 10 years or more, who are United States citizens (USC) or legal permanent residents (LPR), have a spouse or child and who have not had problems with the law are eligible to apply for this. One of the most difficult parts of applying for cancellation of removal is showing an immigration judge that the USC or LPR relative will suffer “exceptional and extremely unusual hardship” if you are deported.

Some of the judges are former immigration lawyers, former Peace Corps workers, prosecutors or academics from some appellate level. “It’s a wide mix,” Worth said. “But the discretion to order cancellations is limited.”

Those who are not able to succeed in a cancellation application, or another form of relief, are ordered deported and, after the time to appeal has run, driven by bus to a nearby airport and flown out to their country of origin.

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No one objects to deporting dangerous criminals. But someone should modify an order that consists of declaring a whole race of people who crossed our borders without papers now eligible to be rounded up in their homes at night.

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Seven years after Einstein came to America, still before the outbreak of the war in Europe, President Roosevelt invited representatives from more than 30 countries to a conference at Évian-les-Bains in France in the hopes of getting them all to accept the Jews who the German leader wanted deported from Germany. When this was announced, this leader wrote:

“I can only hope that the other world, which has such deep sympathy for these criminals, will at least be generous enough to convert this sympathy into practical aid. We, on our part, are ready to put all these criminals at the disposal of these countries, for all I care, even on luxury ships.”

Nothing came of the conference.

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