Two refugee candidates’ wins on Tuesday remind us: refugees are powerful protagonists in their own stories… and ours.
By: Ashley Houghton and Ryan Mace
Our friends at HIAS wrote a powerful blog post in the wake of Election Day this week that is worth a read: Two Refugees Won Elections Last Night. In Montana, Wilmot Collins became the first black mayor in Helena’s history — he also came to the United States 23 years ago fleeing civil war in Liberia. In Virginia, Kathy Tran won a House of Delegates race and became the first Vietnamese-American elected to any level of office in the state. She also happened to come to the U.S. as a refugee from Vietnam when she was only an infant.
All too often, there are those that attempt to frame refugees as either villains in the national security narrative, or victims of violence abroad, helpless to help themselves. Not surprisingly, it turns out neither are true. Former national security officials and countless studies have demonstrated, forcefully, that refugees do not pose a threat to our national security and should not be feared. They are the ones escaping war and violence after all.
Media outlets regularly talk about refugees in the abstract, but fail to speak to them, amplifying their unique experiences and stories, particularly once they enter the United States. The story of these two individuals’ success this week should be a reminder that it is not the first time, nor should it be the last, that former refugees have shown how much they contribute to our country.
This is the latest in a trend we’ve seen across the country, including Ilhan Omar’s win as State Representative in Minnesota and Stephanie Murphy’s House win for Florida’s 7th Congressional District, both in November 2016.
Certainly, the role of refugees as powerful leaders isn’t limited to holding elected office. Refugees are business owners, athletes, and standouts in countless other fields. But these stories don’t even begin to include the untold stories of refugees as our neighbors, coworkers, friends, and family. They are the parent who helps carpool their neighbor’s kids on the way to school, and the coworker who joins us for a quick lunch in the break room.
These stories are a testament to what the United States strives to stand for: to embrace individuals no matter where they come from. We are stronger when we stand together as a nation of all backgrounds and experiences, and refugees — like all other global citizens — have a right to be treated with dignity, fairness, and respect.
Now is the time where refugees’ voices need to be heard the most. The world is facing the worst refugee crisis in recorded history, with 22.5 million refugees, over half of whom are children, seeking a safe haven in their time of need. This number increases daily.
When we reach out to help those in their time of need, we never know how far they may go in making our country and world a better, more vibrant, place to live.