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This is my mom, brother and I on our first or second day in America, in Haverhill, Mass., in 1979. We were lucky to get out of the Soviet Union a few months before the Soviets stopped letting people out in retaliation for the 1980 Olympics boycott. And we were doubly lucky to have a platinum-plated refugee experience, housed by HIAS (founded as the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society) in Vienna and then a seaside town in Italy for three months, then welcomed by Haverhill's entire Jewish community as their first sponsored Soviet Jewish family. That meant an apartment already rented for us with a stocked (and restocked) fridge, all sorts of other help, and an incredibly generous effort to fully integrate us into the community. My parents got paid for months to learn English under the VISTA program so that they could put the professional skills they brought with them to use; that modest investment paid off for the U.S. economy and society many times over. Despite the extraordinary help we got, it was still hard. Immigration always is, especially for refugees whose ties with the country of their birth are effectively severed. Remember that when someone claims today's refugees in the U.S., who get much less help, have it too good. We have it as good as it gets as the destination of choice for talented people from all over the world.

Year: 1979

– Igor Greenwald

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