Op-Ed | Delegate Kathy Tran on the Immigration Crisis

July 5, 2018
Kathy Khanh Linh Tran, Delegate, 42nd District, Virginia House of Delegates

In 1979, my parents and I were refugees, escaping from Vietnam on a rickety boat for several days. My mother remembers that on the night we left our homeland, there were no stars in the sky - it was so dark that she could not tell where the ocean ended and the sky began. As we left the shores into this watery abyss, she wondered how we would survive.

My parents’ decision to leave their family and country was heart wrenching for them. Yet, the unknown of the dangerous, open sea was a preferable alternative to the oppressive regime at home. My family’s journey in search of hope, opportunity, and freedom is similar to journeys made by 800,000 Vietnamese boat refugees as well as other refugees around the world.

Today, there are 65 million displaced people worldwide. Whether on the Mediterranean Sea or at our Southern border, people, desperate for a better life for themselves and their children, are risking their lives.

I am outraged by the Trump Administration’s “zero tolerance” immigration policy. This inhumane approach is tearing apart families seeking refuge at our Southern border - leaving parents frantically searching for their children and children alone and terrified. We must not separate families, and we must not rest until separated families are reunited. 

We also must not indefinitely detain people seeking refuge in jails, tents, or cages. In 1998, I taught ESL to adult asylum seekers at Elizabeth Detention Center in New Jersey. These jails are no place for adults fleeing persecution let alone children or families.

Virginia is committed to compassion and justice. Governor Ralph Northam’s decisive decision to recall Virginia National Guard members who had been deployed to the Southwest border sent a clear message: Virginia will not participate in activities that enable family separation.

I also applaud the Governor’s swift leadership to investigate reports of abuse of immigrant children held by the US Office of Refugee Resettlement at a juvenile detention facility in Staunton, Virginia. We need to ensure the safety of every person – adult or child, native-born or immigrant – held in custody in Virginia.

During the 1970s and 1980s, many Americans disapproved of resettling Vietnamese refugees in the United States. However, despite this opposition, Presidents Jimmy Carter and Ronald Reagan, a Democrat and a Republican, showed moral courage in accepting Vietnamese refugees. Now, like then, the United States must welcome refugees and maintain a humane process to allow people to seek asylum.

Poignantly, on World Refugee Day, the rising tide of public demand for the humane treatment of families seeking refuge from persecution brought an end to the “Zero Tolerance” policy. Democrats and Republicans came together to say family separation is unacceptable. It is important that we, as former refugees, stand in solidarity with today’s refugees. We understand too well that fleeing persecution is one of the most desperate and uncertain times in our lives, and we have a right to be treated humanely.

We must recommit ourselves to being steadfast in our compassion for and dedication to assisting those fleeing violence, terror, and oppression. For generations, the United States has been a beacon of hope for many, and immigrants and refugees have strengthened the social, economic, and cultural fabric of our country since its founding. Now more than ever, we must continue to demand moral clarity and leadership from our political leaders.