On World Refugee Day, US Senator Ron Wyden honors his parents, calls for United States to welcome refugees – World Refugee Day 2018

Senator Ron Wyden as a child with his parents. Senator Wyden’s mother and father both fled Nazi Germany.

Portland, Oregon – On World Refugee Day, Senator Ron Wyden honors his parents, calls on the United States to welcome those fleeing violence and persecution.

This World Refugee Day, it’s more important than ever to reflect on the humanitarian values our country must uphold for people fleeing persecution.

Our country takes justifiable pride in our strong history of welcoming immigrants and refugees seeking freedom and a better life.

I know that history firsthand because I wouldn’t have the honor of serving as Oregon’s United States Senator if not for my parents fleeing the horrors of Nazi Germany in the 1930s for the safety, security and promise of the United States.

Not all in my family were so fortunate.

The deaths of other family members left my mom and dad forever grateful for the opportunities the United States provided them. They worked hard to make the most of their newfound freedoms.

My father, Peter Wyden, fled Germany with his parents. He may not have been born on US soil, but he was a true patriot and used his knowledge of German to talk his way into the US Army, writing the propaganda pamphlets that the United States dropped on the Nazis. My dad, who went on to become an award-winning journalist and author, often spoke about the honor he felt as a new American helping our great nation, his adopted country, defeat the Nazis.

My mother, Edith Wyden, similarly fled Nazi Germany with her parents, ultimately landing in the United States. She too quickly served her new country as a member of the Women’s Army Corps throughout Europe during World War II. My mom eventually worked with a unit involved in planning the Allied occupation of her former home country, and later became an economist, researcher and reference librarian.

Both my mom and dad are clear examples of the millions of immigrants and refugees who have come to the United States and made our country better.

Immigrants and refugees bring a wealth of talents, culture and perspective that contribute to our communities in so many positive ways. Their contributions are indispensable and should always be acknowledged and celebrated.

As we mark this World Refugee Day with those contributions in mind, we must also face the troubling fact that many families coming to this country, much like mine decades ago, are fleeing persecution. They are seeking asylum.

Yet after all the suffering these asylum seekers have endured, Donald Trump and his administration are heaping even more trauma on them. That cruelty is wrong.

We should not be tearing these families apart. We should not be indiscriminately detaining asylees in prisons with no end in sight. We should be welcoming them.

Ron Wyden
Ron Wyden visits the Federal Correctional Institution in Sheridan, Oregon, on June 16, 2018.

When I visited Saturday with some of the 123 asylum seekers dumped by the Trump administration at the Sheridan federal prison in my home state of Oregon, I heard heartbreaking and harrowing accounts from men fleeing violence in Mexico and Central America about their forced separation from spouses and children.

One man wondered aloud about the whereabouts of his 18-month-old daughter. Others spoke just as powerfully about their lack of opportunity for follow-up contact with their own children weeks after Trump officials split them up.

America is better than this cruel and callous treatment of asylum seekers that rips apart families and denies them regular medical care or access to legal and spiritual counsel.

It is with my own family during the 1930s in mind, and so many in the present coming to our country hungering for freedom, that I joined my Democratic Senate colleagues in introducing legislation to ensure these families can stay together and that asylum seekers are treated humanely.

We must not turn our back on the needs of others. Now is the time for us to all come together and ensure that every person who comes to our country seeking asylum is welcomed.

Refugees shaking hands

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World Refugee Day 2018

This month, to celebrate World Refugee Day on June 20, US-born Americans across the United States honor newcomer Americans with a story from their state – a story of a refugee, asylee, or immigrant they admire. From soldiers to politicians, employers to students, social workers to business people – everyday Americans tell their stories to celebrate the goodness and courage of the newcomers who make the United States a better place.

Every day in the month of June, the Refugee Center Online will publish a new story from a different state. Check back for new stories each day: therefugeecenter.org/world-refugee-day.

Learn more about World Refugee Day. All across the country, there will be events celebrating World Refugee Day. Visit this map to find an event in your community.

About Senator Ron Wyden
Senator Ron Wyden served in the U.S. House of Representatives from 1981 until his election to the U.S. Senate in 1996. He lives in Portland, is married to Nancy Wyden, and has five children.