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Is Thanksgiving Thanksgiving If We Are No Longer Welcoming Refugees?

On Thanksgiving Day in 1956 a group of families sat down to a feast at Camp Kilmer in New Jersey. Almost none of them had ever heard of the Thanksgiving holiday. But it quickly became a favorite! 

These were refugees from Hungary who had just arrived in the United States. They had escaped the assault by Soviet Union troops after an uprising against Communist rule. These refugees were finding safety, freedom and hope in America. 

As reported by journalist Claire Cox in the Washington Post, the refugees received a wonderful Thanksgiving meal of turkey, stuffing, cranberries, mashed and sweet potatoes, corn, carrots, rolls with butter and even Pumpkin Pie. This is how you greet refugees, especially after a long journey. 

Eighteen year old Kamel Gabos said "I don't understand the meaning of Thanksgiving. But I am thankful to be here. I don't have to be told what kind of country we are in. I saw that the minute I stepped off the airplane."

Imre Heidert, who was part of the uprising against the Communists in Budapest, said "I had forgotten there was such a thing as turkey. I ate it when I was a child, before World War II, when Hungary was still Hungary, but no one has it anymore."

Some refugees had arrived the night before. Josef Mate, a priest who had been imprisoned five years by the Communists, exclaimed "I am saying to President Eisenhower and all the American people Thank you and God bless you."

TheNew York Times reported that refugees were thrilled to be asked their opinion. Under communist rule, that was never welcomed. Some received Thanksgiving dinner at the United Hias Service shelter. Others were sponsored by Catholic Relief Services and received assistance. 

At a speech welcoming the refugees Army Secretary Wilber Brucker said, "The Stars and Stripes floating here today is the flag not only of America, but of all humanity."

Tens of thousands of refugees would be welcomed to America from Hungary. And for those still under Soviet oppression in Hungary aid was sent. With U.S. support the Red Cross provided feeding programs for mothers and infants plus daily hot meals for Budapest school children.  

Today, as a caravan of migrants fleeing violence and poverty in Central America approaches, we should ask ourselves are we still the same country, at least in terms of our leadership. 

President Trump seems to have forgotten what makes America great, our compassion for refugees. He has ordered troops to the border to prevent the migrants from entering. Trump has also ordered an overall limit of 30,000 refugees to be allowed into the United States for fiscal year 2019.

This is an alarming low figure when you consider the massive number of displaced persons from conflicts in Syria, South Sudan, Afghanistan, Myanmar and many other trouble spots. There are 68 million people worldwide who have been forced from their homes according to the UN Refugee Agency.

Trump is reducing support for refugees at a time when it's needed the most. According to Catholic Relief Services (CRS) the 30,000 cap would "be the lowest it’s been in the history of the U.S. refugee admissions program, which was established more than 30 years ago."

CRS says "This new refugee ceiling, along with the administration’s proposals to cut poverty-reducing foreign assistance, risks marring America’s moral leadership."

The United States can do better. 

As President Dwight Eisenhower once said "The response of the American people to the needs of the homeless and the outcast has always been generous and timely.....With charity and understanding, the American people have welcomed these refugees to our shores."

Our refugee admission program should expand during a time of crisis. Our food and humanitarian aid programs to refugees overseas should likewise increase. 

Instead so much focus from Trump is placed on wild spending to build a wall on the Mexican border to keep out people escaping violence and hunger in Central America. Helping those who come in peace and addressing the root causes of why people flee would be a more humane approach. 

What makes America great is our compassion. It is welcoming those who come here seeking safe haven. It is sending food to the family overseas who has been displaced by war. It is seeking to build peace everywhere so such tragedies of displacement and hunger do not occur in the first place.

Thanksgiving Day should remind us of how we greeted refugees in the past and how we should treat those who need our help today.