Commemorating the 40th anniversary of the U.S. Refugee Act
Washington — Four decades ago, the government and people of the United States of America chose to make compassion for the world’s most vulnerable people the law of the land. Public Law 96-212, more commonly known as the Refugee Act of 1980, was approved with robust bipartisan support in the U.S. Congress and signed into law by President Jimmy Carter on March 17 of that year.
In the 40 years since, that law and the elemental humanity expressed through it have given families from around the world who escaped deadly violence at home the opportunity to rebuild productive, fulfilling lives in safety and dignity in the United States. It has provided comfort to the frightened, healing to the traumatized, peace to the tormented, and a home for families with nothing. In doing so, it has enriched and strengthened the very fabric of everyday life for all Americans.
Equally as important, enactment of the U.S. Refugee Act of 1980 set a humanitarian benchmark for all countries and peoples and remains the “gold standard” for morality and compassion today. In aligning U.S. law with the principles and obligations enshrined in the 1951 Refugee Convention, the Act eloquently acknowledged the duty of the State to protect and assist people violently uprooted from their homes. It created the institutional framework and laid the foundation for policies and procedures needed to fulfil that duty. It was, and remains, both a blueprint and a catalyst for the international cooperation required for all countries and peoples to share the responsibility for responding to those forced to flee their homes.
As forced displacement around the world reaches levels not seen before, and as the need for sustained global cooperation in good faith to address this reality and other urgent challenges to our shared health and well-being becomes glaringly apparent, the U.S. Refugee Act of 1980 remains as relevant and needed today as it has ever been.
Today, as we mark the 40th anniversary of the U.S. Refugee Act of 1980 amid the world’s determination to confront a health challenge to all people, I want to convey on behalf of UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency that I represent, and on behalf of all of the people we and our partners work to assist in the world, our deep respect for and enduring appreciation of this landmark humanitarian law. We at UNHCR will continue to do our part to help ensure that the Refugee Act continues to save lives, promotes sharing responsibility for the well-being of all, remains a force for good and keeps the better angels of human nature in the fore.
Regional Representative for the United States and the Caribbean
United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees
For more information on this topic, please contact:
In Washington, Chris Boian, [email protected], + 1 (202) 243-7634