The Senate Judiciary Committee's Subcommittee on Immigration, Border Security and Refugees, held hearings on Tuesday to probe the issue of the plight of refugees from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Senator Ted Kennedy chaired the hearing, and, while many conservatives who frequent the commentary pages of the Washington Times find little in common with the senior Senator from Massachusetts, Kennedy has been and remains a stalwart on the issue of refugees.
One had the sense while witnessing this hearing, that we were seeing the Liberal Lion of the Senate at his best.
"The desperate situation in Iraq has created hundreds of thousands of refugees who are virtually unknown to the rest of the world," Kennedy said. "We can't continue to ignore their plight."
This is not some new awakening by Senator Kennedy. After the fall of Saigon and the collapse of the democratic government of South Vietnam at the hands of the Communists in 1975, Senator Ted Kennedy spearheaded the effort to help the Vietnamese refugees.
Saving the Vietnamese "boat people," as they were called, and bringing them here to America was not a popular policy at first. Senator George McGovern was against it, saying "I think the Vietnamese are better off in Vietnam"
Sen. Robert Byrd, D-W.Va., wanted "barmaids, prostitutes and criminals'' weeded out as if there was a way to fairly do that. Sen. Joe Biden, D-Del., said "the (Ford) Administration had not informed Congress adequately about the number of refugees'' the president intended to rescue -- as if anyone actually knew how many people were fleeing for their lives.
The idea to allow South Vietnamese refugees to enter the United States was met by a resentful and isolationist American population with scorn. Americans were facing inflation and high unemployment. Their hearts were not in the mood for helping Asians get out of a jamb. A poll taken in 1975 showed only 36 percent of Americans were in favor of Vietnamese immigration.
In "The Last Grim Goodbye" Time Magazine reported, "Americans were recoiling from any reminder of the war-even at the risk of betraying some of their best ideals. In California, Arkansas, Florida and other sites where South Vietnamese refugees might be settling, many citizens were angrily telling them to stay away; there were not enough jobs even for Americans. It was not an edifying performance in a nation settled by immigrants and refugees."
But Senator Ted Kennedy sided with President Ford, saying, "The human suffering in South Viet Nam and Cambodia staggers the imagination. Clearly, this new crisis demands new initiatives by our Government and an urgent humanitarian response from the American people."
Kennedy, and others in the Congress, sponsored the 1975 Indochina Migration and Refugee Act. President Ford signed it. And one of the great chapters of American heart and hope and help was under way.
Senator Kennedy told Chris Wallace on Fox News Sunday December 17, that "There are now 100,000 refugees that are leaving Iraq every month. Jordan has sealed its borders. Lebanon has sealed its borders. They're rushing into the Middle East. We have 700,000 refugees that have come into Jordan. It's like 30 million people have entered the United States over the last two to three months."
"Today, within Iraq, 1.6 million people have already fled or been expelled from their homes. An additional 1.8 million, fleeing sectarian violence, kidnappings, extortion, death threats and carnage, have sought refuge in neighboring countries," said Senator Kennedy. "At least 700,000 are in Jordan, 600,000 in Syria, 100,000 in Egypt, 54,000 in Iran and 20,000 in Lebanon."
During Tuesday's hearing, witnesses explained their own long, lonely, dangerous road from Iraq to freedom. Translators assisting American forces have been specially signaled out for death by Iraqi terrorists and militants. One such translator, in gripping testimony, explained his own travails.
After he translated discussions between U.S. forces and the Mosul police chief he said, "My life was in jeopardy." His name was posted at Mosques and his neighbors were told he was marked for death.
The U.S. Department of State has a special visa for translators who have helped the United States in Iraq and Afghanistan; it is available to only 50 translators every year.
Another Iraqi testified that he drove a truck that supplied U.S. forces with water. Besides helping the U.S., this man is a member of an oppressed minority in Muslim Iraq. He identified himself as a Chaldean: a Catholic Iraqi Kurd.
The stories told at the Senate Committee hearing on Tuesday put a human face on the tremendous number of refugees the U.S. is now in a position to save.
In a sort of editorial, the editors of the New Republic on January 15, 2007 wrote, "Washington has many debts still to pay in Iraq. But it has a special obligation to protect the tens of thousands of Iraqis who cast their lot with the Americans."
We agree with Senator Kennedy and those now bringing to the awareness of the American people the plight of these refugees from Iraq and Afghanistan.
Mr. Carey is the former president of International Defense Consultants, Inc. and a frequent contributor to The Washington Times. His wife was a Vietnamese refugee in 1975 and is now an American citizen operating her own business.
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