Statement On Commemorating World Refugee Day 2022

On June 20, yesterday, we commemorated World Refugee Day, an important reminder that we must rededicate ourselves to a cornerstone of our Nation’s founding – providing refuge to the persecuted and oppressed. Since the days of the earliest European settlers, America has provided safe harbor to waves of refugees throughout our history. Many Americans today can trace their ancestry back to refugees who fled their homelands seeking freedom and security. Welcoming refugees is not just something America does – it is who we have always been.   

Americans have put this long tradition of welcoming refugees on full display in recent months. After the withdrawal from Afghanistan, Americans across the political spectrum opened their hearts, homes, and wallets to Afghans fleeing the Taliban’s ruthless rule. To date, American families have helped to welcome nearly 80,000 vulnerable Afghans into the United States, giving them a fresh start. As a Vermonter, I am proud that our state joined this cause and volunteered to welcome and resettle 100 Afghans.

When Russia shocked the world and invaded Ukraine, Americans of all walks of life yet again stepped up to assist Ukrainians fleeing violence and destruction. Already, tens of thousands of Americans have volunteered to serve as private sponsors for arriving Ukrainian refugees. A Gallup poll from April confirmed that nearly 80 percent of Americans support resettling 100,000 Ukrainian refugees in the United States, a central goal of the Biden administration’s Uniting for Ukraine initiative.

The deep and broad support for refugees among the American people has, for many years, been reflected in the halls of Congress. I strongly supported the 1980 Refugee Act, the landmark law creating our modern U.S. Refugee Admissions Program and asylum system. That legislation was passed overwhelmingly in the House, and unanimously in the Senate. In the decades since, both parties have worked together to provide refuge to exiled Cubans, displaced Haitians, dissident Chinese, and many other refugee populations fleeing persecution and tyranny. Most recently, as Chairman of the Appropriations Committee, I worked with members of both parties to pass multi-billion dollar aid packages to fund our government’s efforts to aid Afghan and Ukrainian refugees.  

It should come as no surprise that both parties have, more often than not, worked together to support refugees seeking to begin anew in the United States. The over three million refugees who have resettled in the United States over the past several decades have enriched our country, economically and culturally. Refugees are entrepreneurs and job creators. They are active, and committed, members of our communities.  They are our neighbors and our friends. Our nation’s history has been defined by refugees, from Albert Einstein to Madeleine Albright. Their stories, and the stories of the millions of other refugees who have come to our shores, are the American story.

The Trump administration gave rise to a dark turn toward nativism and xenophobia, a jarring retreat away from what has made America great. The hateful policies of the Trump administration, espoused first by the former president himself, aimed to demonize refugees and asylum seekers, to shut our doors to the persecuted and oppressed. Those policies were shameful.  They should be repudiated, forcefully, by every member of the Senate. 

There is much work to be done to rebuild our Nation’s capacity to welcome and resettle refugees. I will continue fighting to defend and support refugees for my remaining months in the Senate, just as I have throughout my Senate tenure.

Today, though, I am hopeful. I see Vermonters coming together in aid of Afghan and Ukrainian refugees over the past several months.  I am confident that America’s highest ideals have not seen their last days. We, the American people have not lost sight of our roots. We are still here, an imperfect but compassionate beacon of hope for the hopeless. We are still here, our torch held high.

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