About three million refugees have resettled in the United States since Congress passed the Refugee Act of 1980, according to the Pew Research Center. That law created the current national standard for screening and admission of refugees into the country.
Historically, the total number of refugees coming to America has fluctuated with global events and U.S. priorities.
“At a time where there is the most refugees that the world has ever seen, there is over 22.5 million people seeking resettlement,” said Parisa Pirooz, former refugee empowerment course facilitator. “The U.S. is only accepting one percent of that, which is very low, comparatively, to other countries.”
“The administration has taken the position that the U.S., I think frankly, are sort of withdrawing from the U.S. commitment which we share with other nations in the world to try to be a place where refugees from natural disasters and violence can find at least some safe haven for a particular time,” said U.S. Sen. Tim Kaine (D-VA).
Some argue inviting foreigners into the country brings uncertainty, with concerns over things like crime and overpopulation.
“After I believe 1980, there hasn’t been any refugee that has been convicted of a fatal terrorist attack in the U.S.,” Pirooz added. “And so, you know, that is usually people’s concern, right? Safety when they admit refugees.”
Immigrants say if America is indeed called the “land of the free,” then it should do more to open its doors.
“I am originally from Ethiopia. I came here in the United States in 2004,” said Belayneh Loppisso, an Ethiopian refugee and current director of refugee services at the Catholic Diocese of Arlington. “I came for a family visit, and was not able to go back to Ethiopia for political reasons. I applied for asylum, and stayed in America.”
Loppisso is a success story, having fled corruption in Ethiopia and bringing himself up from refugee status to the director of migration and refugee services.
Sayyareh Azar, an Iranian woman who fled her country because of the 1979 revolution, brought her six children to America to start a new life.
“Suddenly, in our country, a revelation changed,” she said. “They brought down the king, they brought up the Islamic government. At that time, the country was completely upside down. There were bloody days, the border was closed. Universities were closed.”
“So we sent my second son, because he didn’t have any chance there. We sent him…through the mountains out of the country, to save his life. The rest of the family, including my husband, they were stuck in Europe for years. Then we came to America.”
Azar explained how difficult it was to leave her home country.
“It was very difficult to leave Iran,” she added. “We had a rough time to bring the whole family in here. It took five years.”
The last time Azar saw her home country was 1983. But now, she says America is her home.
“This is a free country. This land, immigrants built,” Azar said. “They came from all over the world. This is our land, too.”