Letter: Eleanor Roosevelt's refugee solution
To the editor:
In 1944, Eleanor Roosevelt was anxious to do something about the flood of World War II refugees. Some were still wearing the striped uniforms from concentration camps. The American immigration process was too slow and limited to resolve the immediate problem. Congress was afraid that the refugees would take away jobs from returning soldiers and they might become a financial burden to the country.
Mrs. Roosevelt came up with a plan. If every free country took in 1,000 refugees for the duration of the war, thousands would be saved. Every refugee was required to sign a document stating that they would return to their country of origin after the war and therefore would not be taking away jobs from Americans. The refugees were not promised citizenship, but they were given a "lifeboat" until their future could be arranged.
The plan was a good one, but unfortunately, we were the only country that took in refugees. There is a museum in Oswego, N.Y., where the refugees were housed — Fort Ontario, which was vacated by the U.S. army. It's become the "Safe Haven Museum." Check it out on the internet. It is a very interesting place to visit.
The U.S. is now in a similar situation. We are being swarmed with desperate refugees who want to live in peace and safety. They will do anything to get their children educated and have a future. Should we send them back to the countries where they live in fear?
Why not do what Mrs. Roosevelt suggested, only do it within our borders? If each state took 1,000 refugees and set up housing and a support system, we could save 50,000 people.
Many of the children carry notes with names and addresses of family or friends in the U.S. I suggest that we get volunteers from surrounding churches and temples to contact the people and offer the refugees temporary visas to live with their contacts. The children could be allowed to go to school even while they are in custody. Learning English is the road to a future in America.
When I drive over the Triborough Bridge connecting Queens and the Bronx to Manhattan, I pass empty, renovated, air-conditioned buildings which were the Manhattan Psychiatric Hospitals. Two of the three buildings stand empty. My husband did his basic training at Fort Dix in New Jersey. It is no longer in use. There are facilities in every state that are usable and empty.
You ask where will we get the money to staff and support these facilities? Not from President Trump. We are a country that believes in helping others. Every day, I read about a celebrity sponsoring a cause. Churches with Spanish-speaking congregations should be asked to help the emergency processing of the refugees. A 501(c)(3) should be created and public service ads placed on TV and radio stations asking for donations.
Mrs. Roosevelt had a great idea. Let's learn from the past and run with it. Remember, we were all refugees once.
Judith Weber is a writer of children's books. Her most recent book, "Seeking Safety," is an historical novel about a mother and daughter were saved from war by being picked to go to America by Ruth Gruber, an American journalist, government official and humanitarian. They traveled to Oswego, N.Y., and stayed in Fort Ontario for the duration of the war.
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