The Biden administration has granted Temporary Protected Status (TPS) to Ukrainians. Although this good news provides work permits and blocks the deportation of Ukrainians already in the United States, there is still much to be done.
As Europe faces a situation of legions of Ukrainians fleeing invasion and war, America will have to think bigger and bolder. During our last Cold War period, presidents and congressmen of both parties relied on immigration as part of a range of options in the face of authoritarian global aggression. Given the polarization of the immigration issue, it would be surprising if most Americans knew that. But in this era, immigration became more than an act of bipartisan compassion. It was a candid statement of who we were as a nation.
We will need that kind of courtesy again.
Immediately after World War II, Democratic President Harry Truman and Congress embarked on an ambitious program in which America spent billions to help people devastated by war. However, Truman acknowledged that America – which had only taken in 5,000 refugees – needed to do more for the 60 million displaced in the face of a global authoritarian attack.
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In a special message to Congress, Truman reminded us that as a nation, “(we) have thrived on the energy and diversity of many peoples.” In response, the Republican-controlled Congress passed America’s first refugee resettlement law – the Displaced Persons Act of 1948. The legislation, while certainly not perfect, provided resettlement and funds to more than 400,000 European refugees displaced by war and persecuted by the Nazi government. and the Communist takeover of Eastern Europe.
It may have been one of the first acts, but certainly not the last. The United States, under the Republican administration of President Dwight D. Eisenhower, would eventually resettle almost 40,000 Hungarian refugees and 675,000 Cuban refugees, after the Hungarian revolt against communism in 1956 and Fidel’s takeover of Cuba Castro.
Following the fall of Saigon in 1975, Republican President Gerald Ford reminded Democratic and Republican congressmen that it was “a nation built by immigrants” and that he had been “damn crazy to any suggestion to the contrary. Congress quickly passed the Indochina Migration and Refugee Assistance Act, which granted refugee status, resettlement assistance, and financial assistance to those fleeing totalitarian regimes in Vietnam, Laos, and South Korea. Cambodia.
And no less than Ronald Reagan himself remarked that “(more) than any other country, our strength comes from our own heritage of immigration and our ability to welcome those from other countries.” Reagan put his words into action and despite criticism from members of both parties, ensured the treatment of immigrants from Cuba during the Mariel boat lift in 1980 and from Southeast Asia. Reagan saw immigration and refugee aid as one of our many tools for defeating communism in the long run.
Given this history, today’s Democrats and Republicans who agree to open our doors to Ukrainian and other refugees at this time of crisis are not special cases – their opponents are.
Immigration, as a statement of leadership, should not be avoided or discounted. Democratic and Republican leaders are expected to pass another refugee bill to help Ukrainians and others fleeing authoritarian regimes.
Such a bill, however, should focus on rebuilding our entire refugee resettlement apparatus, which was devastated by COVID-19 and the previous anti-immigration administration. The bill is also expected to include additional funding and reforms for US embassies and consulates abroad which have also suffered some sort of financial crisis due to the pandemic and would not be able to help Ukrainians. In other countries.
Finally, such a law should reform the humanitarian parole program and provide large-scale assistance to countries hosting internationally displaced persons.
Economic sanctions, alliance-building and military aid to beleaguered democratic governments are important, but so is immigration. It always has been.
As America faces the prospect of a new Cold War with authoritarian rule, we should pull a page from the playbooks of past policymakers and pass big bipartisan bills and executive action centered on immigration .
As Americans, we must always stand with all who fight for democracy, human rights, and freedom. This time should be no different.
Christopher Richardson is a former US diplomat and General Counsel and Chief Operating Officer of BDV Solutions, LLC, an immigration consulting firm.