The United States and Europe are facing the worst refugee global migration crisis since World War II. Estimates are that there are more than 60 million refugees worldwide. Every day that we fail to step up and address this issue leaves more refugees at risk of grave and imminent danger, not only for the next few years but for generations to come. I know this because I have seen firsthand the continuing struggles among the refugee population from the World War II era. The consequences have a long shelf life.
I am an immigration lawyer in Columbus, Ohio, and have just filed an application on behalf of a man I will call Ivan. Ivan was born in Lithuania in 1941; he is now 75-years-old. His parents died during the war and he was raised by his grandmother in a Displaced Persons Camp in Germany. After delays due to Congressional inaction, President Harry Truman signed legislation in 1948 and 1950 that allowed a total of 400,000 refugees into the U.S. Ivan benefited from one of those laws and came to the U.S.
The impact on Ivan from those years in the camp was severe. Ivan knows virtually nothing about his early life. He doesn’t know his parents’ names, nor does he know much about his grandmother or his years in the camps, beyond poor living conditions, constant hunger and insufficient food. He worked for 50 years in the United States in a series of menial labor jobs.
How would his situation be different today had he been offered the chance to build a new life sooner? If he had not been trapped in the camps for years? If he had had better nutrition, better schooling, and the opportunity to pursue a dream, rather than have it stripped away by long, hungry hopeless years?
Ivan’s case teaches us that we cannot delay responding to the refugee crisis. The failure to resettle refugees, from Central America, Syria, Northern Africa or the Gulf region, will impact generations—indeed thousands of infants are born every year in refugee camps. The United States resettles less than 80,000 refugees each year. Germany has settled millions of refugees, but can’t do this by itself. The problem requires a global solution.
What can we do? We can offer hope by committing to settle 200,000 refugees next year, including 100,000 from Syria. We can stop detaining and deporting Central American asylum seekers and start extending real protection to them as U.S. law requires. We can show the world that the U.S. will stand with other countries and grant refuge to a number that is commensurate with our country’s vast resources. We can let the families in the camps know that our country is still a beacon, that we remain committed to our country’s founding principles and values. Years of waiting will only exacerbate the situation and we’ll be sentencing more children to the kind of uncertainty and fear that Ivan endured. That isn’t good enough. We must do better.
By Rob Cohen, Chair, AILA USCIS HQ (Benefits Policy) Liaison Committee