Walter Mondale stood at the epicenter of my immigrant life.
Mondale was my father's first senator. In 1969, my father immigrated from India for postgraduate study at the University of Minnesota thanks to the Immigration and Nationality Act supported by Mondale during his first year in the Senate.
Mondale was one of the first elected officials my father ever turned to for assistance. In 1974, my father wrote to him when my mother's visa processing was delayed, and within two weeks Mondale responded in a letter my father treasures to this day.
And in 1984, Mondale was the first presidential candidate for whom my father cast his vote.
My beloved but troubled state and nation has lost one of its great sons, a man who for me — the daughter of immigrants and the executive director of the Immigrant Law Center of Minnesota — will always be remembered for his advocacy on behalf of immigrants and refugees.
In 1979, a few months after my birth, Mondale spoke to the United Nations and called on the world to come to the aid of refugees from Vietnam. "History will not forgive us if we fail," Mondale said. "History will not forget us if we succeed."
The world and the United States heeded Mondale's words. Southeast Asian countries provided temporary homes, and several other nations agreed to resettle Vietnamese refugees. Here in Minnesota, thousands of refugees from Vietnam rebuilt their lives and transformed our communities.
Thirty years later, in the Washington Post, Mondale lamented the slashing of refugee admissions amid "a humanitarian refugee crisis of unprecedented proportions." He reminded us that refugees arrive at our borders because "they have no other choice — for many, if they stay, they will be persecuted, subjected to traumatic events such as torture, or killed." And he exhorted us to contact our representatives, to advocate for increased refugee admissions, and to vote.
We followed Mondale's advice, but for what?
Last week, President Joe Biden — who had promised during his first weeks in office to increase the refugee cap — announced he would not do so. He quickly backpedaled in light of significant backlash and said he would announce a new cap in May.
Any number will be higher than the historically low 15,000 set by the Trump administration. But will the number show real humanitarian leadership of the kind Mondale called for?
It should and it must. Biden should increase the cap to at least the 62,500 he promised in February and invest resources to ensure that the over 30,000 refugees who have already undergone vetting are quickly resettled and others can complete the vetting process quickly. Biden should also redress the Trump administration's anti-refugee policies by increasing refugee admissions in fiscal years 2022, '23 and '24.
For me, it's no coincidence that Fritz Mondale died this week. It's a sign. When he became vice president, now-President Biden phoned Mondale, who gave him a "road map" for the job. Mondale never had the opportunity to be president, but he has nonetheless left behind a road map for President Biden.
"America's founding principle [is] welcoming those most in need," Mondale said. President Biden simply needs to make this principle a reality once more.
Veena Iyer is executive director, Immigrant Law Center of Minnesota.