Father Lydio F. Tomasi’s Contributions to Worldwide Refugees in the 1980s

Authored by Sonia Lau

This letter is written to Father Lydio Tomasi on January 19,1983 from Eugene F. Higgins thanking him for his contributions and insights regarding refugee situations that is happening around the world during the 1980s. It is part of the Directors’ Files of CMS Collection #084A, Box 4, Folder 41.

Immigration has had an enormous role in shaping the United States as a nation. There are many reasons for one to immigrate and such decisions are major and life-changing. Conflicts between nations, as well as economic turmoil, displace millions of people all over the world. What happens when the people are forced to flee their homelands to escape and seek refuge in another nation? Thus, immigration becomes an essential topic for understanding and discussion. With such need, people like Father Lydio F. Tomasi, along with a few of his community of Catholic priests, nuns, and laypeople founded the Center for Migration Studies.

The United States Refugee Act of 1980 was the first significant change in America’s immigration laws and has solidified the relationship between resettlement agencies and the government (Brown and Scribner 2014, 101). Under the leadership of Tomasi, CMS was devoted to the study of international migration. CMS works with policy-makers on international, regional, national, and local levels; scholars and researchers, faith-based groups, non-governmental and community-based organizations (Center for Migration Studies 2019). Tomasi’s unique viewpoints on issues surrounding refugees across the world have helped many missionaries to understand the situation and able to provide better assistance.

During the 1980s, refugees around the world came to America to seek aid and asylum. During this period, there was a struggle between international and domestic policies regarding the handling of refugees, such as political manifestos of Michael Novak’s The Rise of the Unmeltable Ethnics (Macekura 2011, 364). However, most of the voluntary agencies such as the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops and Migration and Refugee Services (USCCB/MRS) operate in partnership with CMS. They have settled nearly one-third of all refugees in the United States (Kervin 2018, 25). The UNHCR has paid $134.4 million directly to aid Indochinese refugees by providing them with food and necessities and $10 million was spent on Vietnam (Suhrke 1981, 25). 

In 1982, Lydio Tomasi published an editorial, “A Needed Immigration Bill” in Migration Today, criticizing the Immigration Reform and Control Act of 1982. He saw it as unfair to most Asian immigrants as it did not loosen entry requirements. The Act eliminated the eligibility of those who are 21 years or older to enter the United States, which severely hindered the idea of family reunification. At this time, the public sentiment was negative towards refugees as they are competing with domestic workers for jobs (Greenwood and McDowell 1985, 74). Despite all the controversies and challenges involved, Lydio Tomasi never gave up on his beliefs in helping refugees around the world. 

Tomasi’s actions reflect on the Vincentian spirit of St. John’s University which is to commit to a life of stewardship as a caretaker of God-given talents, resources, and knowledge, and caregiver responding to the needs of others (St. John’s University 2019). He continued to educate missionaries, and the general public on the hardships refugees faced, and never feared to speak his mind. He has a very loving and respectable heart for extending help to those in need by providing them services and guidance towards a better future. Tomasi devoted his career and most of his life to serving the less fortunate, and he is a Father to his parish. His vast knowledge and never-ending strive for improvements for refugees serve as the foundation in helping the misfortunate to achieve equality and freedom.


Brown, Anastasia, and Todd Scribner. 2014. “Unfulfilled Promises, Future Possibilities: The Refugee Resettlement System in the United States.” Journal on Migration and Human Security 2 (2): 101-120. https://doi.org/10.1177/233150241400200203.

Center for Migration Studies. 2019. “About.” https://cmsny.org/about/

Greenwood, Michael J, and John M McDowell. 1985. “U.S. Immigration Reform: Policy Issues and Economic Analysis.” Contemporary Economic Policy 3 (3): 59–75. doi:10.1111/j.1465-7287.1985.tb00808.x.

Kerwin, Donald. 2018. “The US Refugee Resettlement Program — A Return to First Principles: How Refugees Help to Define, Strengthen, and Revitalize the United States.” CMS report, June. New York: Center for Migration Studies. http://cmsny.org/publications/us-refugee-resettlement-program/.

Macekura, Stephen. 2011. ““For Fear of Persecution”: Displaced Salvadorans and U.S. Refugee Policy in the 1980s.” Journal of Policy History 23 (3) (0): 357-380.  https://doi.org/10.1017/S0898030611000145.

Tomasi, Lydio F. 1982. “A Needed Immigration Bill.” Migration Today. Volume X, no. 1: 5. Staten Island N.Y: Center for Migration Studies of New York. 

Suhrke, Astri 1981. “Indochinese Refugees: Impact on ASEAN and U.S. Policy.” Contemporary Southeast Asia 3 (1) (Jun 01): 24. https://www.jstor.org/stable/25797645.

St. John’s University. 2019. “Our Mission.” History & Facts. https://www.stjohns.edu/about/history-and-facts/our-mission.