During a hearing on the U.S. refugee resettlement program on Capitol Hill on September 28, several senators made personal pleas—some citing their own family history—in support of welcoming refugees to the United States.
Senator Dick Durbin (D-IL) mentioned the letter organized by HIAS that was signed by more than 1,200 U.S. rabbis, and Senator Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), spoke of his own father’s journey escaping the Holocaust and coming to America.
Senator Al Franken (D-MN) also made impassioned remarks, “I just think that this is really a matter of values when you come right down to it, and I think our country is enriched by refugees like my grandfather,” he told the committee. “I think we have to do a gut check here, and see who we are as a people.”
“Are we a country that’s just terrified?” Franken asked the committee, “Are we political leaders, office holders, whose job it is to give in to terrorists and tell them that we are not going to live up to our values that are there on the Statue of Liberty? Or are we going to be a bigger people?”
Referring to HIAS’ rabbi letter, Senator Durbin, said, “Last year the senate received a letter from more than 1,000 Jewish rabbis who opposed restrictions on refugee resettlement...These rabbis said, ‘In 1939, our country could not tell the difference between an actual enemy and the victims of an enemy. Today, let us not make the same mistake.”
Finally, Senator Richard Blumenthal (D-CT) took the opportunity to recall his own family’s history. “I’m proud to say that my dad came to this country in 1935,” said Senator Blumenthal. “He was 17 years old, he spoke virtually no English, had not much more than the shirt on his back and knew essentially no one. This great country gave him a chance to succeed...his parents and immediate family were refugees when he enabled them to come here by borrowing money that he could scarcely pay back on the eve of the Holocaust.”