Just over 30 years ago, the late Senator Edward Kennedy championed the Refugee Act of 1980. Under this legislation, the United States codified into law our asylum and refugee resettlement processes. But America’s long-standing tradition of welcoming, protecting and integrating peoples fleeing persecution from areas of conflict throughout the globe is more deeply rooted in our nation’s history. The President issued a statement on World Refugee Day:
We honor the dignity, courage, and determination of these men, women and children who have fled persecution and violence in their homelands and the commitment and generosity of the countries and organizations that provide them protection and assistance during this difficult time.
Through the good work being done by the U.S. Refugee Admissions Program (USRAP), America welcomed and protected over 56,000 refugees in FY2011. These individuals seek out shelter and aid that cannot be found in their countries of origin. They face the daunting challenge of fleeing across borders to escape harrowing violence and devastation. Their journeys are often punctuated by stays of an undetermined length in camps.The Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR) in HHS’ Administration on Children and Families, founded on the belief that newly arriving populations have inherent potential when given opportunities, provides refugees with critical resources to assist them in becoming integrated members of American society. In addition, the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) and our Immigration Courts review asylum applications for those fleeing persecution that have already arrived in the U.S. or present themselves at our borders.
Today, the United States remains as committed as ever to assisting and protecting refugees, including through resettlement in America. This work is challenging, but with the collaboration of several federal agencies, including State, DHS, and HHS and the many nongovernmental partner organizations, the United States remains true to its commitment to protect vulnerable people fleeing conflict and persecution.
That partnership was on full display at a naturalization ceremony held at the State Department, in conjunction with DHS. Denis McDonough, deputy national security advisor to the president, gave congratulatory remarks on behalf of the Administration and led the new citizens in the Pledge of Allegiance. At the ceremony, Khaled Hosseini, author of the New York Times best-selling novel “The Kite Runner,” and Maria Otero, an undersecretary for the Department of State, were recognized as “Outstanding American by Choice” for their significant contributions and achievements as naturalized U.S. citizens. Hosseini, a former asylee, and Otero also addressed the new citizens during the event. USCIS held several naturalization ceremonies throughout the week.
On World Refugee Day, we call to mind the refugees welcomed to communities throughout the United States. We honor their resilience and their contributions to our country.
Felicia Escobar is the Senior Policy Director for Immigration with the White House Domestic Policy Council