Congressman Jeff Fortenberry hosted a ceremony this morning welcoming an upcoming Nebraska History Museum exhibit on the impact migration has had on the state and highlighting one of the most recent people groups to now call Nebraska home.
Fortenberry has donated a copy of legislation he helped guide through Congress that created a special immigrant visa for military translators who helped American troops in Iraq and Afghanistan. That eventually led to about 2,500 Yazidi residents to settle Nebraska, mostly in Lincoln.
“I had not heard of the Yazidi community when we initiated this,” Fortenberry told a gathering at the Nebraska History Museum. “And it was only later that I began to learn about this very special group of people who called northern Iraq their home, who had willingly volunteered to do this with us, whose tradition was a bit different than ours and different than the surrounding areas, who had lived with a commitment to peace and maintaining their tradition and culture.”
Many from the Yazidi community who moved here were relatives of those who served as military translators. They often feared their cooperation with the United States military could lead to harsh repercussions, including death.
Fortenberry said Congress also moved to declare that ISIS and other terrorist groups have been engaged in attempts to wipe out certain people groups.
“We were able to pass a resolution several years ago that declared what was actually happening to these communities to be genocide,” Fortenberry said. “Of course, that triggers certain mandates in international law, but the primary outcome was to raise international consciousness as to the plight of the ancient Yazidi and Christian communities as well.”
Fortenberry serves on the House Appropriations Subcommittee on State and Foreign Operations with jurisdiction over the Department of State, the Agency for International Development, and related international programs.
Fortenberry stated immigration has had a long-term, significant impact on the development of Nebraska as a state, adding Nebraska has been a welcoming state from its beginning 150 years ago.
“To the degree that we can and to the degree that we must, we will absorb peoples who want to rebuild their lives and come here and become good Americans,” according to Fortenberry. “And you’ve seen that tradition happen over and over with waves of immigrants, particularly here in Nebraska from Germany and the Czech Republic.”
Fortenberry says that tradition has continued with immigrants from Vietnam, Bosnia, and the Yazidis and others from northern Iraq.
The new migration exhibit as the Nebraska History Museum opens at the beginning of next year.
AUDIO: Nebraska State Historical Society Dir. Trevor Jones introduces Congressman Jeff Fortenberry as special museum event. [13 minutes]