The most notorious part of Donald Trump’s campaign platform during the Republican primary was his promise to deport eleven million illegal immigrants from the United States. It’s a bold and alarming policy, but he’s not the first to use forced migration as political strategy. From forcing others into exile or foreign labor, displacing large groups during warfare, taking prisoners of war, or even enslaving others, forced migration has taken a number of shapes and forms in the past. While the only constant here is the devastating impact it has on the lives of those involved, it doesn’t always turn out well for the oppressors either.
In the sixth century BCE the Babylonian King Nebuchadnezzar swept through the kingdom of Judah and besieged the city of Jerusalem. After the city fell in 597 BCE, Nebuchadnezzar took the pro-Babylonian King Jehoiakim, his family, and aristocrats from the royal court to Babylon. There they remained for two generations until the Persian ruler Cyrus the Great sent the people back to the land of Israel. The trauma that surrounds the Babylonian Captivity is felt throughout the pages of the Hebrew Bible. A mere generation later the Persians would conquer Babylon and send the exiles home. For his role in this, the book of Isaiah names Cyrus the Great the messiah.
If the Babylonian exile was about a foreign force moving the Israelites to their capital city, there were a number of other foreign powers (the Romans, the Spanish, almost every Western European country) that wanted to expel Jews from within their borders. In 1290, King Edward I issued the Edict of Expulsion, a legal measure that forced Jews – around 2,000 in all – out of England. In many ways the Edict was the culmination of two centuries of rising anti-Jewish sentiment, sentiments that included myths of blood-libel, accusations of extortion, rising taxation, and the requirement that Jews wear an identifying mark.