Two Former Refugees Won Elections Last Night
By Gabe Cahn, HIAS.org
Nov 08, 2017
Elections across the country on Tuesday, November 8 brought victories for many first-time public office holders.
In Montana and Virginia, it was also an historic election night for two candidates who came to the United States as refugees. Their winning campaigns represent the immense contributions of refugees who are welcomed to this country after fleeing violence and persecution.
The Huffington Post’s Willa Frej and Philip Lewis have a thorough recap of all the notable candidates who won office last night, including Mayor-elect Wilmot Collins in Helena and Delegate-elect Kathy Tran in Virginia’s 42nd district.
Collins, 54, defeated his opponent in a nonpartisan race and will become the first black mayor in Montana’s history. He arrived in Helena as a refugee 23 years ago after fleeing civil war in his home country of Liberia.
On a day many Americans feel true hope reading news for 1st time in a year, this is 1 of the more inspiring tales: Wilmot Collins, a Liberian refugee, elected mayor of #Helena, Montana! https://t.co/26GboojDSG
— Samantha Power (@SamanthaJPower) November 8, 2017
“The country is still not what Mr. Trump wants it to be,” Collins told HuffPost.
In the aftermath of the Trump administration's first executive order banning refugees, Collins told a local television station that "coming here provided me a second chance. A second chance at life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness."
"The process is intense," he added in reference to refugee vetting measures. "The process I went through took me two years and seven months to go through."
In Virginia, Kathy Tran, a former Vietnamese refugee, became the first Asian-American woman to join Virginia’s House of Delegates and the first Vietnamese-American elected at any level in the state.
Kathy Tran came to the U.S. as a refugee from Vietnam when she was an infant. Tonight, she became the first Asian American woman elected to the Virginia House of Delegates. Congrats @kathykltran! pic.twitter.com/NSynRwHJ7d
— Women's March (@womensmarch) November 8, 2017
Last week, The Washington Post included Tran in a piece about several women running for local office in Virginia, and featured this inspiring anecdote:
Her fourth child was born shortly after Trump’s inauguration. Concerned about the new president’s anti-illegal-immigration platform, she and her husband, Matthew Reisman, chose the name Elise, inspired by Ellis Island, through which Reisman’s family immigrated to escape anti-Semitism. The middle name, “Minh Khanh,” is Vietnamese for “bright bell,” inspired by the Liberty Bell.
Within a few weeks of her daughter’s birth, Tran decided she wanted to live up to her daughter’s aspirational name. So she became a candidate.
As the administration continues to admit fewer and fewer refugees, the election-night victories for Collins and Tran are a timely reminder of the benefits derived from America’s proud tradition of offering safe haven.