America has long welcomed the world's "huddled masses yearning to breathe free," and President Barack Obama announced this week that the U.S. will help resettle 10,000 refugees fleeing war-torn Syria over the next year.
According to the State Department
, Americans have welcomed more than 3 million refugees from all over the world since 1975.
Gathered below are five examples of the U.S. offering a new home and sanctuary to those caught in the crossfire of war, oppressed by brutal governments, or persecuted for their religious faith.
1. Vietnam 1979-1980
— Often referred to as the "Vietnamese boat people," roughly 111,000 refugees fled to the U.S. in 1979, following the Vietnam War and Fall of Saigon. In 1980, that number almost doubled, to 207,000, according to The New York Times
. Much like today, churches — especially the Catholic church — helped resettle the immigrants. The city of Santa Ana, California, erected a memorial to the refugee crisis in 2006.
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2. Cuba 1980
— The Mariel Boatlift was announced on April 20, 1980, by Fidel Castro's regime following a housing and job shortage. Anyone who wanted to leave Cuba would be allowed to do so, and Cuban exiles in the U.S. rushed to hire boats in Florida to pick up their relatives. According to History.com
, 125,000 Cubans fled to U.S. shores in about 1,700 boats. 27 died in total, many after their boat capsized. This wave of immigrants came 20 years after Operation Peter Pan, wherein the U.S. resettled roughly 14,000 Cuban youths, including Mel Martínez, the U.S. Senator from Florida.
3. Somalia 1990s, 2000s
— The majority of the nearly 100,000 Somali American's living in the U.S. have immigrated here since the 1990s, when the civil war broke out. A large number of the mostly Muslim refugees have formed a vibrant community in Minneapolis, Minnesota, sometimes referred to now as the home of "Little Mogadishu." According to The Star Tribune
, the state welcomed almost 1,050 refugees in 2014, while roughly 9,000 were settled nationally.
5. Iraq 2007
— Since the U.S. announced its large-scale Iraqi refugee processing program, the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services reports that 119,202 Iraqis have been approved for resettlement and 84,902 have arrived stateside. According to the department
, "especially vulnerable refugees, including individuals who are affiliated with the U.S. government and religious minorities" are given priority in consideration for resettlement.
5. Former Yugoslavia 1990s
— As the Balkan peninsula descended into civil war, the U.S. agreed to resettle a large number of refugees. Many came from what would later become Bosnia. According to Al Jazeera America
, "News crews carried live the images of the first planeload of refugees landing at Fort Dix in 1999. A refugee who became a new dad just hours after his arrival told a crowded news conference that he hoped to name the baby boy 'America.'"
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