I came to the U.S. as a refugee from Vietnam 34 years ago. Today, I would probably be turned away. As we await an announcement for the upcoming year’s refugee admissions target, my heart breaks for the mothers and children seeking safety and a better life in our country.
No one wants to flee their home. For my parents, it was a heartbreaking decision but one they felt they had to make in order to protect their children. When I was 10, I endured a treacherous, monthlong journey adrift in the South China Sea before arriving safely on land with my 15-year-old brother, thanks to the help of kind Filipino fishermen. We then spent a year and a half in a refugee camp waiting for the promise of a better future.
I am here today because of the American dream — a dream that is becoming available to fewer and fewer people. I am here because of the countless Americans who warmly welcomed two vulnerable children into their country and helped us build a new home in a new land. My brother and I went on to become American citizens, earn graduate degrees, have stable jobs, and give back to the country that welcomed us. I opened a restaurant in Seattle, Nue, specializing in international street food. I have opportunities that many of my friends and family who were left behind don’t have, and that many people around the world still do not have. And that’s why my heart breaks for today’s migrants and refugees.
The U.S. history of resettling refugees — more than 3 million since 1975 — has enabled great contributions to the fabric of our country. Refugees have gone on to open businesses, become our engineers, doctors, artists, ambassadors, and serve our country as soldiers and as teachers. They are our neighbors, our friends and our colleagues.
The cornerstone aspiration for the founding of the United States is to offer oppressed people refuge from violence and persecution. To forsake the vulnerable people currently seeking refuge would be to forsake what it means to be American. And yet, at a time of unprecedented global displacement, that is exactly what is happening.
According to Oxfam America, more than 70 million people around the world have been forced to leave their homes because of violence, persecution and war. In response, the Trump administration is closing our doors to the world’s most vulnerable people — people like my brother and me when we were refugees.
Extreme factions of the Trump administration reportedly are considering slashing refugee admissions for the coming year to zero, a cruel and callous move that betrays everything our nation stands for. From the first days since taking office, President Donald Trump and his administration have sought to do everything possible to turn around our country’s long history of welcoming refugees and migrants, and provide them safety from situations and circumstances most of us couldn’t even imagine.
We have already seen damage done to our refugee resettlement program. The administration implemented new vetting procedures and endless bureaucratic red tape as part of a “backdoor” ban that is blocking the ability of refugees from certain countries to reach safety in the U.S. In the past year, the U.S. resettled just 28,000 refugees — the lowest amount in the history of the refugee resettlement program.
As Americans, we must keep open our minds, hearts and borders to refugees fleeing violence and persecution — refugees, like me, whose only hope of survival was to leave. At the end of the day, we are all humans, just trying to do our best. Wanting our family members to be safe and have a bright future is a common thread that runs through all of us.
Standing on safer shores, watching our fellow humans drowning or dying of hunger or thirst, the only moral choice is for all of us to throw them a lifeline.