June 20, 2013 NEWS RELEASE — LIRS Leaders Climb Capitol Hill on World Refugee Day to Advocate for Vulnerable Migrants, Immigration Reform

Press Contact: Jon Pattee
202-591-5778, jpattee@lirs.org

WASHINGTON, DC June 20, 2013 — Driven to help others in whose shoes they once walked, over 20 former refugees are marking today, World Refugee Day, by visiting Capitol Hill to call for comprehensive immigration reform that includes a robust U.S. refugee resettlement program.

The visits to congressional offices are part of Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service (LIRS)-sponsored events marking World Refugee Day. The former refugees bear the urgent message that U.S. lawmakers should support comprehensive immigration reform with better protections for refugees and other vulnerable people fleeing persecution.

“As a refugee myself, I can personally relate to the plight of refugees globally and can understand the struggles they undergo. I have a strong belief that refugees should be given the space for protection but also an environment where the human development of these individuals can thrive,” said San Jose resident and delegation member Hung Le. “As one of the first boat people from South East Asia, my journey to the United States was not easy, but the fact that it takes me here to Washington to be a voice for refugees shows me how much the United States is a leader on human rights.”

“Somalia, Sierra Leone, Liberia, Vietnam, Iraq — we’re here from all over, together with our friends and allies from the faith community, with a message of thanks and hope that America will keep its commitment to protecting refugees overseas,” said Le. “Too many lives depend on it.”

World Refugee Day is celebrated by civic groups around the globe. The United Nations established the annual June 20 event to honor the courage, strength, and determination of women, men, and children who are forced to flee their homes under threat of persecution, conflict, and violence.

“We asked these leaders to join us in Washington to encourage Congress to continue moving ahead on comprehensive immigration reform, and to keep the plight of the world’s 15 million refugees in mind as they undertake this important work,” said Brittney Nystrom, LIRS Director for Advocacy.

“We’re meeting with more than 30 congressional offices today, and we’re grateful to the former refugees who are the heart of this effort,” said Nystrom. “Without them, we wouldn’t be able to deliver such a powerful message.”

“What’s happening on Capitol Hill today reflects American Lutherans’ deep immigrant roots and passionate commitment to welcoming newcomers,” said LIRS President and CEO Linda Hartke. “From the post-World War Two period, when we welcomed tens of thousands of Lutheran refugees to the United States, up to today, we’ve been showing the world our faith in action by offering hospitality and welcome.”

The former refugees are now active participants in American civic life.

“I’m so grateful to live in Portland, and the United States, firstly because I feel safe here, and secondly because of the respect for human rights in this country. I am also happy now that I have a job and good friends,” said Portland resident Isha Abdullahi, a former refugee from Somalia. “It’s incredibly critical that America continue to show the kind of human rights leadership that made it possible for me and other families to escape war and other persecution.”

“Living in America has allowed me to follow my passion and dream: becoming a full-time designer with my own clothing line, Joy 4 Designs, and sharing my knowledge with the community,” said Brooklyn Park, MN resident and former Liberian refugee Joyce Cooper. “I’m blessed to be able to use my talent to raise funds for local charitable organizations and give back to my community.”

The delegations to congressional offices are part of wider LIRS World Refugee Day events to recognize refugee contributions to American communities. On June 19, LIRS held the Walk of Courage Award Dinner. The Baltimore event, featuring CNN journalist and keynote speaker Brenda Bush-Weeks, honored the journey that refugees worldwide have taken from harm to safety, as well as their leadership in their communities and on Capitol Hill. Over 150 guests from the Baltimore, Washington, D.C., and New Jersey areas attended.

LIRS President Hartke used the occasion to present the Walk of Courage Award to Lt. Cmdr. Chris Phan in recognition of his extraordinary accomplishments as a Vietnamese refugee, member of the U.S. armed forces, successful attorney, elected official, and advocate for refugee protection.  The dinner also honored the late Senator Frank Lautenberg (D-NJ), creator of an amendment bearing his name that facilitates access to refugee status for people fleeing religious persecution.

“The reason we’re all here is that we want to make a difference in this world,” said Phan, whose acceptance speech focused on the importance of family in all things, including advocacy for refugees. “If it wasn’t for my dad, who risked his life on the high seas, and my mom, who worked tirelessly to raise me, and my friends and relatives who saw me through my first days of resettlement in America, I would not be here.”

LIRS is nationally recognized for its leadership advocating on behalf of refugees, asylum seekers, unaccompanied children, immigrants in detention, families fractured by migration and other vulnerable populations, and for providing services to migrants through over 60 grassroots legal and social service partners across the United States.