Millions resettled: New lives for refugees in the U.S.

The Espinosa family came to the United States as refugees and settled in New York. (Courtesy Jay Capers)

“Give me your tired, your poor, Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free”
— Emma Lazarus, “The New Colossus,” poem displayed at the pedestal of the Statue of Liberty

These words have greeted millions of new Americans arriving from every corner of the world. They remain true today.

Since Congress passed the Refugee Act of 1980, the United States has resettled nearly 3 million victims of violence and persecution. That’s more than all other resettlement countries combined.

Among the beneficiaries: Vietnamese and Lao Hmong communities in California, Iraqis who have started new lives in Michigan and Somalis who came to Minnesota and Maine to forge a new destiny.

Also among the beneficiaries: the new arrivals’ fellow citizens, whose communities have been enriched and horizons broadened by new Americans like physicist Albert Einstein, former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, rights activist Loung Ung and less famous neighbors, schoolmates and co-workers.

Candidates for resettlement are typically referred by the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees. Applicants are interviewed and screened and if approved and cleared come to the U.S. to start new lives. In recent years, about 70,000 have been resettled annually.

Resettlement agencies help the new arrivals find homes, educational services and work. After five years, a refugee can apply for U.S. citizenship.

President Obama has noted the mutual responsibilities of the new arrivals and their American neighbors, and the benefits that accrue to all. “By focusing on the civic, economic, and linguistic integration of new Americans,” the president says, “we can help immigrants and refugees in the United States contribute fully to our economy and their communities.”