Refugee Victories on Election Night Show Why Civic Engagement Matters!

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Kathy Tran/

Wilmot Collins/Facebook

Last night, two former refugees: Wilmot Collins – originally from Liberia – and Kathy Tran – originally from Vietnam – both came home winners.


Wilmot, a delegate for the state of Montana with the Refugee Congress and child protection specialist with the Montana Department of Health and Human Services, was elected Mayor of Helena, the capital of Montana.

“I want other refugees to know that we did nothing wrong by coming into this country,” Collins said. “They should hold their heads up high and with hard work, all will be well. They should know that their votes count and they should make their voices heard.”

Kathy Tran, who was brought to this country as an infant, was elected a member of the Virginia House of Delegates, representing the 42nd District. She is the first Asian American woman to be elected to that body. Speaking to CWS, she said “My family and I left Vietnam when I was 7 months old as boat refugees. My parents were determined to uphold the values of hope, opportunity, and freedom. For them, America has always represented those values. I ran for the Virginia House of Delegates because I felt those values were under attack.” She continued to say she looks forward to “connecting directly with refugees looking to be more civically engaged” and reaffirmed her support for all of the refugee resettlement agencies helping former refugees transition to life in their new homes in the United States.

The election of two former refugees in the midst of the hostile and misleading rhetoric about refugee resettlement is an inspiring moment. CWS is proud to stand against such rhetoric and support refugees through programs such as:

  • Leadership development – refugees learn how to run meetings and speak to the media, undertake community projects together, and carry out advocacy campaigns
  • Know Your Rights workshops and resources – tips for immigrants and refugees on their rights and interacting with law enforcement
  • Advocacy – we provide advocacy materials and action alerts to refugees and allies to push for constructive policies with their elected officials to create inclusive communities

Refugee and immigrant media training in San Antonio, Texas

What does Civic Engagement look like?

  • Encouraging and helping refugee community members who have been in the U.S. for at least five years apply for citizenship
  • Registering newly naturalized citizens to vote, educating them about the importance of voting, and volunteering for get-out-the-vote efforts
  • Organizing or participating in neighborhood or community meetings, community clean ups, or cultural festivals
  • Volunteering with a community-based organization on and around Election Day
  • Attending and/or giving testimony during city council meetings
  • Writing letters to the editor about issues refugees care about
  • Taking part in rallies, marches, or vigils to support community issues

Collins’ and Tran’s victories demonstrate the importance of civic engagement and prove that refugees are Americans who enrich our society when we create the conditions that enable them to thrive.

For more resources on civic engagement, go to and