The other day I actually did got an e-mail from James Bond. Now, I realize this is not his real name, it was a pseudonym, but the topic he raised was a serious one. It was obvious from what he wrote that he has a great love of his country, Romania, and is concerned about its welfare and its future. He wanted to know my opinion on what he called the “Muslim invasion” of Europe. He is concerned about the recent immigrants to this continent in to particular this country and asked me to comment. I felt it important to do so.
Let me start off by saying, I am a first generation American. My father emigrated from Germany to the United States to work in Michigan. There he made a life and started a family. He contributed to his community and was a patriotic citizen. This is not a unique story. It is the story of America. Aside from those who are pure Native Americans, all of us trace our ancestral roots to other countries. We come from all over the world, but have one fact in common – we are Americans. Not only are we ethnically diverse, we are also religiously as well, believers of a higher power and non-believers alike.
We in the United States have struggled with the issue of diversity. In his first Inaugural Address President Obama, whose father was from Kenya, referenced America’s diversity or “patchwork heritage” as he called it, by declaring it “a strength, not a weakness.” I firmly believe this to be so, and would add that this in fact one of our greatest strengths.
It is quite timely that Mr. Bond asked his question. In January, we in the United States celebrated the birthday of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. He championed equality and promoted both civil and human rights, at a time in our history when we were not living up to our own values enshrined in our founding documents that declared all were created equal. For his efforts, he was award the Nobel Peace Prize in 1964. He said then that “Sooner or later all the people of the world will have to discover a way to live together in peace, and thereby transform this pending cosmic elegy into a creative psalm of brotherhood.”
Recently in Bucharest we observed International Holocaust Remembrance Day. This annual event pays tribute to those who were senselessly killed for what, for being different. In October 2015, at a similar event, President Iohannes, stated “When thousands of refugees knock at the gates of our continent, the temptations of populism and racism risk to be reborn. I am sure that together we can overcome this complicated situation and to deal with it successfully.”
I raise these two recent commemorations to highlight how both our countries have had struggles with their diverse populations throughout their respective histories. Today, we face a new test, those fleeing wars and persecution in the Middle East. Many of these individuals are escaping horrific conflict and that these vulnerable migrants include many women and children seeking protection. I applaud the generosity and compassion with which so many European citizens and leaders have already responded to this crisis. So you may ask, what has my own country contributed to this crisis?
The U.S. has provided over $4.5 billion in humanitarian assistance since the start of the Syrian crisis – more than any other single donor – to help address dire humanitarian conditions faced by 7.6 million displaced people inside Syria and over 4 million Syrian refugees in the region, in Lebanon, Turkey, Jordan, Iraq and Egypt. America has admitted nearly 70,000 refugees from around the world in 2014 and 2015. We will also be increasing our resettlement of refugees by more than 40 percent over the next two years, welcoming 85,000 refugees in 2016 and 100,000 in 2017. Of the refugees admitted this year, at least 10,000 will be from Syria. In 2015, we provided a $26.6 million regional contribution to UNHCR for its programs in Europe which was used to help provide food, water, and legal assistance to refugees transiting Greece, Macedonia, and Serbia, among others In broader terms, since 1975 we have welcomed over three million refugees to our shores. They have contributed an immeasurable amount to the richness of American culture, added to our economic strength, and honored our core values as a nation, engraved on our Statue of Liberty.
Welcoming new immigrants, especially in large number, can certainly be frightening. What if they do not acclimate, what if they put a drain on social, financial, or health services, what if they take away jobs from people that have been there for years? There are a lot of unknowns. But here I am reminded that the birth of some of America’s greatest contributions to society were from immigrants.
Albert, Einstein, one of the world’s greatest intellects, fled persecution in Nazi Germany for safety in the United States. A founding member of the world-famous and aptly- named band, The Fugees, short for refugees, Wyclef Jean, came to America in 1982 with his family from poverty-stricken Haiti. My former boss, Madeline Albright, escaped communism in then Czechoslovakia and would go on to become the first female Secretary of State of the United States. Luong Ung, got out from under an oppressive regime in Cambodia when she was young, and resettled in America, and would go on to become an activist for human rights and a spokesperson for the campaign against landmines. Fleeing Cuba, Gloria Estefan would later win 7 Grammy awards and share her Latin rhythms with the world. Mahnaz Afkhami was Secretary-General of the Woman’s Organization of Iran, an organization empowering women her country. While on a Mission to the UN in New York in 1978, she sought asylum in the United States due to real fear that upon her return to Iran she would be executed by the new Islamic Revolution. She is now the President of the Women’s Learning Partnership for Rights, Development, and Peace, a non-governmental organization which she founded.
My point by presenting these examples is this, one never knows where the next Einstein or Estefan comes from. What is important is that all should be treated humanely and with dignity. All should be given a chance to develop, to contribute, and to make a difference in this world. I know it is not an easy thing, but I thank those who welcomed my father oh so many years ago when he arrived on America’s shores. Today, I am both extremely proud and deeply humbled to share America’s and indeed my own story with those who might see it as an example of tolerance and inclusion.
I believe that Romania could be the Eastern European example of tolerance and inclusion, by welcoming those seeking a brighter future. Those looking for a new home are bringing with them energy and ideas, entrepreneurism and excitement. Do not look at this as a potential drain on society, but as a potential resource for it. Let these new immigrants become part of this new Romania you are creating, one free of corruption, one where rule of law applies to each and every citizen, and one where ever member of society has the opportunity to contribute to the vibrant culture and economy.
On February 3, at a mosque in the United States, President Obama reminded all Muslim-Americans that “You’re not Muslim or American. You’re Muslim and American.” I encourage all in this wonderful country steeped in history, rich in diversity to welcome immigrants and to help them be Muslim and Romanian.
Yes, Mr. Bond it is possible.