Refugees and Immigrants

My father was a refugee. As a child of five in 1921 he fled with his parents and little sister from oppression and persecution in Russia.  The family spent two years moving around Europe waiting for sponsorship, and finally arrived at Ellis Island in 1923. My father and his family were lucky in their timing, arriving just before more restrictive immigration laws were enacted. Here is what Wikipedia tells us about those laws at that time:

The Immigration Act of 1924, or Johnson–Reed Act, including the National Origins Act, and Asian Exclusion Act (Pub.L. 68–139, 43 Stat. 153, enacted May 26, 1924), was a United States federal law that limited the annual number of immigrants who could be admitted from any country to 2% of the number of people from that country who were already living in the United States as of the 1890 census, down from the 3% cap set by the Emergency Quota Act of 1921, which used the Census of 1910. The law was primarily aimed at further restricting immigration of Southern Europeans and Eastern Europeans, especially Italians and Eastern European Jews.[1][2][3] In addition, it severely restricted the immigration of Africans and outright banned the immigration of Arabs and Asians. According to the U.S. Department of State Office of the Historian the purpose of the act was “to preserve the ideal of American homogeneity”.[4] But though the Act aimed at preserving American racial homogeneity, it set no limits on immigration from other countries of the Americas.[5] Congressional opposition was minimal.

Unless we are Native Americans we all have some story of immigration in our backgrounds. Many of those are also the stories of refugees. It is important to remember those stories.

Recently at a Council meeting I made this statement about immigrants and law enforcement in our community.

As the issue of immigration has become more heated, I believe it is important to provide more information to our community about both the values we uphold and the practical actions we take to ensure the safety and well-being of everyone in our community. So I want to share my views publicly, views I have already shared with Council Members

First, I believe it is important for us to affirm that we are a nation of immigrants. Consistent with that history and the values that underlie it, the actions we take intend to welcome immigrants regardless of nation of origin or religious affiliation.

Second, it is important for us to affirm that we are a nation of laws. Those laws separate local, state, and federal responsibilities.

For local policing to be effective, all in the community must feel that they can report or provide information about offenses without risk to themselves and their families. Our police ensure that all people have equal protection and services. They do not divert attention from more important policing effort in order to check for immigrant status. The federal Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) is charged by federal statute with that responsibility.

Our community has benefited greatly from immigration, just as individual immigrants have benefited greatly by becoming part of our community. I believe we need to and will do our best to continue that mutually beneficial relationship.

As the child of a refugee and immigrant this issue is highly personal and touches me deeply.  Even were that not so, as an elected official I have a responsibility to speak out in support of fair and compassionate treatment for immigrants in our community.  And even were that also not so, as one member of the community, along with thousands of others, I welcome and support all people who choose to make this their home.


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4 Responses to Refugees and Immigrants

  1. Pingback: Presentations to Council on Immigration | Steve Kay for Lexington

  2. Angene Wilson says:

    Thank you, Steve, for telling your story and making your convictions clear. I can trace part of my family back to Stephen Hopkins who came with the Pilgrims on the Mayflower. I remind people he was an illegal alien!

  3. Meriah Kruse says:

    Thank you for making your position and your feelings clear Steve.

  4. Barbara Sutherland says:

    Steve, thanks for your moving and informative statement.

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