Thanksgiving and Social Security: Different Reasons for Welcoming Syrian Refugees

by Nancy J. Altman, President of Social Security Works

Thanksgiving celebrates the first time in our history when refugees, fleeing persecution, were welcomed and aided by those already here. The Wampanoag tribe not only welcomed the pilgrim-refugees to this land but provided them with food during their first winter when the pilgrim-refugees’ own provisions ran short. Those already here taught the pilgrim-refugees how to plant corn, find other food and, ultimately, thrive. At that first Thanksgiving meal, held in 1621, the fifty survivors of the Mayflower sat down with ninety Native Americans to give thanks.

Starting with those first settlers, the United States developed a strong self-image, not always achieved, as a land of opportunity where those seeking a better life would be welcomed openly. In 1782, an immigrant wrote Letters from an American Farmer, in which he described his new nation as a place where “individuals of all nations are melted into a new race of men.”

Another immigrant wrote the memorable words enshrined on the Statue of Liberty, so symbolic of what America stands for. Those moving words don’t simply welcome newcomers. On behalf of the United States, the words request that other nations, “Send those, the homeless, tempest tost to me.”

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