Today, on World Refugee Day, we should take a moment to honor the courage, determination, and resilience of refugees around the world. At USCRI, we are privileged to work on behalf of those people who have been forced to flee their countries to escape, persecution, violence and other forms of oppression. We see firsthand the strength, dignity, perseverance, courage and, of course, the hope that refugees carry in their efforts to survive the camps where they are warehoused and, for the lucky ones, re-build their lives in a country far from home.
Since 1911, USCRI has been promoting the humanitarian obligation of every country to protect the rights of persons in forced or voluntary migration worldwide and support their transition to dignified life. But more than that, we have faith in the people we welcome and the unlimited potential they bring with them to their new country and communities across the globe.
Today, on World Refugee Day, we should also take a moment to honor those Americans, particularly in our leadership, who have held steadfast to the values and principles that have made America great.
Forty-four 44 years ago, President Gerald Ford appealed to Congress and the American people to allow 130,000 Vietnamese fleeing the aftermath of the U.S. withdrawal of troops entry into the United States.
According to a New York Times report (May 6, 1975, Ford Asks Nation to Open Its Doors to the Refugees), President Ford was more than angry about the widespread opposition to resettling our South Vietnamese allies who feared the wrath of the incoming communist government.
President Ford, in the face of widespread opposition, held his ground.
“We’re a country built by immigrants from all areas of the world, and we’ve always been a very humanitarian nation…” said an unbending president. In this one sentence, President Ford not only conveyed the nature of our American value system, but clearly acknowledged the role immigrants play in our nation-building.
President Ford’s persistence paid off and the Indochina Migration and Refugee Act of 1975 was passed.
Yesterday’s Vietnamese refugees are today’s American success stories. Vietnamese Americans are making substantial contributions to the U.S. economy—from fishing to high tech, medicine and the military.
Their median income is higher than that of the immigrant population at large and US-born households and first-generation Vietnamese Americans excel academically, holding B.A. degrees at the same level of the broader population. And in 2009, Joseph Cao made history by becoming the first Vietnamese American to serve in the U.S. Congress. He was also the first Republican since 1891 to be elected from his district in New Orleans.
In 1975, President Gerald Ford took a principled stand to uphold a foundational American value—humanitarianism—with the pragmatism to acknowledge the positive impacts immigrants have on America’s growth and development.
Historically, the U.S. has had mixed responses to immigration. One argument, however, has withstood the test of time—the United States is a country built and taken to the top by immigrants.
We all agree that our immigration system must be fixed. We also agree that immigration is complicated, involving the economy, jobs, wages, schools, housing, the environment and many other important issues of contemporary American life.
Yet, we should not abandon a fundamental value that has taken our country to the top of the global world order.
Another president, Harry Truman, once remarked that “America was not built on fear. America was built on courage, on imagination and an unbeatable determination to do the job at hand
This country was built by refugees and immigrants, and it continues to get stronger because of the refugees and immigrants it welcomes—not in spite of them.
If anyone says differently, then it’s clear that they haven’t ever met a refugee or an immigrant.
On World Refugee Day, let us all remember the courage, the imagination and the determination of President Gerald Ford 44 years ago in upholding the very principle that defines who we are as a nation. Let us recognize the value our immigrant brothers and sisters bring to the United States and re-commit ourselves to the important work we do to help them become self-sufficient and lead a dignified life.