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Statement from PEF President Wayne Spence

There’s no place in all the world like America where an individual or family can find refuge and opportunity. This is the way it was for my family. I am an immigrant and I’m forever grateful for the opportunities I’ve had.

It troubles me now, however, to hear the tenor of the current debate. Some of the comments regarding the Syrian people are shocking to me. As a labor leader, as an immigrant, and as an proud American, I hope we will not allow fear to divide us or in any way undermine our tradition as a nation of immigrants that welcomes immigrants.

I was pleased to see Governor Cuomo address this matter recently.


Dear friend,

New Yorkers aren’t afraid of our diversity.

On Tuesday, I was in Cambridge talking with students at the Harvard Kennedy School of Government, when I was asked how we should treat immigrants, how we should balance security with acceptance. I think many forces are trying to politicize this, but this goes deeper than politics. It goes to the core of who we are as a nation.

If the day comes when America says “close the gates, build the wall,” then I say take down the Statue of Liberty, because we’ve gone to a different place. The poem on the Statue of Liberty reads, “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,” On the day this is no longer true, we will have lost sight of who we are.

I won’t let the reactionaries win by conceding the defeat of the American Dream.

I have a question for the Governors who say they will refuse to let the refugees in: How?

Where does it say in your state’s constitution that you can refuse a person placed by the Federal Government? What are you going to do, have your militia stand on the borders of your state? It’s up to the Federal Government. If they let refugees in and place them in your state, Governors have no authority to turn them down.

Having said that, this is a complex issue.  We have to protect Americans. The Federal Government has to screen the people who are coming in. They have to do it right, do it exhaustively, but do so without giving up our soul as Americans.

The next time the Republican candidates take to a podium, they’re going to try and confuse the issue, talk about how immigrants are the problem, to use this as a justification to make us afraid of them, and to further divide us. That’s not how we think in New York. Here in New York, we aren’t afraid of our immigrants, we celebrate them. As I’ve said many times before, in New York our diversity is our strength.

The Statue of Liberty is still in the harbor, and the doors are open.

Governor Andrew M. Cuomo