A Former Refugee Goes to Washington To Lobby For Future Refugees

Caitlyn Kim/CPR
Nga Vuong-Sandoval came to Washington, D.C., to lobby her congress members to support and increase in refugee admissions.

In many ways, Nga Vuong-Sandoval is lucky. She and her family were only in a refugee camp for a few months after they fled Vietnam before they were accepted for resettlement in Colorado Springs. Vuong-Sandoval was 3 years old at the time. These days, refugees can spend years, even decades, waiting to be resettled.

The experience that her family went through and, more importantly, the welcome they received in the United States is what brought Vuong-Sandoval to Washington, D.C., this week as part of a delegation organized by Church World Service and Refugee Council USA to lobby Congress to push for allowing more refugees into the country.

“I want them to be able to have a connection and contact with someone who’s gone through this horrific, traumatic refugee experience,” she said.  “And have them understand there are almost 26 million of me and my family going through the same experience right now, who only need a chance. A chance to be able to start their lives from a situation they never chose to be in.”

The Colorado delegation met with with Republican Rep. Ken Buck. Buck is the Ranking Member on the House Judiciary Subcommittee on Immigration and Citizenship, and his district includes the refugee communities that work at meatpacking plants in Greeley and Fort Morgan.  They also met with staff from the offices of Democratic Sen. Michael Bennet and Republican Sen. Cory Gardner.

By putting a human face to a problem that can often be viewed in faceless numbers, Vuong-Sandoval is hopeful that she can make these congressmen understand how their decisions and administration policies impact real people.

Presidents have the power to set annual caps for how many refugees are allowed to enter the country. This year that number is set at 30,000, 70 percent below the program levels when President Barack Obama left office. The Trump administration is now reportedly considering a plan that would cut the number of refugees the United States accepts further, perhaps even going as low as admitting none. 

“Do they really want to be known as one that is not doing the right thing?” Vuong-Sandoval said. “The world is watching us right now, on many things, but particularly this issue.”  

She also stressed the contributions refugees make to the community. Vuong-Sandoval is a public servant. She works as an investigator for the Colorado Attorney General’s office. Before that she worked for the Department of Homeland Security, monitoring groups and threats to the U.S. She points out that during her career there, refugees never came up as a threat.

According to Vuong-Sandoval, all three meetings went really well.  And Rep. Buck agreed, saying he’d work with his colleagues on this issue.

Brittany Yanick
From left, Rev. Noel Anderson, Rev. Joan Bell-Haynes, Rev. Isaac Nicholson, Nga Vuong-Sandoval, Rev. Mark Pumphrey and Rep. Ken Buck meet to discuss refugee admissions on Sept. 11, 2019.

“I was glad to be able to meet with Ms. Nga Vuong-Sandoval and learn about her story,” he said.  “It is important that we as a nation offer safety to those suffering persecution around the world. It is also important that we provide them the services and opportunities to flourish as Americans.” 

Courtney Gidner, spokesperson for Sen. Bennet, said Bennet’s immigration advisor also expressed support for their work and “[Bennet’s] commitment to continuing our country’s long, proud history of welcoming refugees.”

Vuong-Sandoval remains hopeful.

“We all want the same thing. We all want to be welcomed into our new home. We all want to be treated and looked at as a human being,” she said.  “And we want to show to others that this can happen to anybody. And how would you like to be welcomed if you were in that situation?”