By George Cummins, Charles City
The book “The Good Governor — Robert Ray and the Indochinese Refugees of Iowa” (2017) by Matthew R. Walsh documents the efforts of the Iowa governor to assist desperate people displaced by the Vietnam War and its aftermath.
As governor, Ray dealt with three distinct refugee crises from 1975 into the early 1980s — the Tai Dam resettlement, the Vietnamese boat people, and those escaping the Cambodian civil war in refugee camps in Thailand.
The book documents Ray’s efforts to bring and resettle refugees in Iowa, to relax immigration quotas into the U.S., to encourage federal support to states hosting refugees, and to establish the Iowa SHARES program for the Cambodian refugees.
New Providence, my hometown, hosted a Tai Dam family, and Charles City has hosted Vietnamese families.
The book identifies churches, service clubs, professionals and other individuals who assisted with the Iowa SHARES program.
Religious leaders supported Ray’s relief efforts. Recalling the silence and indifference of the world during the Holocaust, Jewish leaders encouraged their followers to redeem the vow of “never again.”
Christian leaders cited the Scriptures: “In as much as you did it for the least of these my brethren, you did it unto me,” Jesus said.
The pillars of Ray’s resettlement program were individual sponsorship, cluster resettlement and job placement to make the refugees self- sufficient and off any public welfare.
Many Iowans discouraged accepting the refugees over concerns about them taking jobs, bringing other problems or drugs with them or simply being concerned over people who were racially, ethnically and culturally different.
Similar objections continue in current immigration discussions.
The book also documents the role Kenneth Quinn, then a young Foreign Service officer, played in this effort.
Quinn had a 32-year diplomatic career that included service as the US Ambassador to Cambodia. He currently serves as the president of the World Food Prize organization in Des Moines and was a keynote speaker at the recent District Rotary Conference in Charles City.
An estimated 1 in 8 people in the world today are displaced by natural or man-made disasters. Our current administrations at the state and federal level have taken a different approach from the one of Gov. Ray.
Refugees are discouraged from coming to the U.S. Immigration raids are occurring in Iowa today and individual deportations have occurred locally, splitting families. Hundreds of thousands of DACA individuals are concerned about their uncertain futures.
Do we remain silent and indifferent to these desperate people or demand positive action from ourselves and our leaders?