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Americans at the Gate

Americans at the Gate: The United States and Refugees during the Cold War

Carl J. Bon Tempo
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  • Book Info
    Americans at the Gate
    Book Description:

    Unlike the 1930s, when the United States tragically failed to open its doors to Europeans fleeing Nazism, the country admitted over three million refugees during the Cold War. This dramatic reversal gave rise to intense political and cultural battles, pitting refugee advocates against determined opponents who at times successfully slowed admissions. The first comprehensive historical exploration of American refugee affairs from the midcentury to the present,Americans at the Gateexplores the reasons behind the remarkable changes to American refugee policy, laws, and programs.

    Carl Bon Tempo looks at the Hungarian, Cuban, and Indochinese refugee crises, and he examines major pieces of legislation, including the Refugee Relief Act and the 1980 Refugee Act. He argues that the American commitment to refugees in the post-1945 era occurred not just because of foreign policy imperatives during the Cold War, but also because of particular domestic developments within the United States such as the Red Scare, the Civil Rights Movement, the rise of the Right, and partisan electoral politics. Using a wide variety of sources and documents,Americans at the Gateconsiders policy and law developments in connection with the organization and administration of refugee programs.

    eISBN: 978-1-4008-2903-3
    Subjects: History, Sociology, Law

Table of Contents

  1. INTRODUCTION Americans at the Gate
    (pp. 1-10)

    In the 1930s, as Europeans fled—and attempted to flee—the horrors of Nazism, the United States closed its doors. The United States’ failure to act as a sanctuary in the face of the most infamous refugee crisis in history makes the next sixty years all the more remarkable. In the decades after World War II, over 4 million refugees entered the United States. To be sure, those 4 million represented only a small percentage of the global refugee population, yet viewed from the perspective of the 1930s, they also represented a significant effort to admit and resettle some of...

  2. CHAPTER 1 “The Age of the Uprooted Man”: The United States and Refugees, 1900–1952
    (pp. 11-33)

    During the first half of the twentieth century, refugee problems proliferated around the globe, became more dire and deadly, and garnered more attention internationally and in the United States. In 1957 long-time refugee advocate and former first lady Eleanor Roosevelt, upon reviewing the previous decades’ refugee crises and assessing the contemporary problems, declared it “the age of the uprooted man.” The United States’ response to these catastrophes was characterized largely by neglect. In the twentieth century’s first five decades, the American government failed to develop a comprehensive response to refugee problems, and, more often than not, it also eschewed temporary...

  3. CHAPTER 2 “A Mystic Maze of Enforcement”: The Refugee Relief Program
    (pp. 34-59)

    Representative Manny celler was angry on December 14, 1954, when he stepped off the airplane that brought him home to New York after a five-week overseas tour. The bulk of Celler’s travels was spent investigating the United States’ preeminent refugee program, the Refugee Relief Program, which offered 214,000 visas to European and Asian refugees. When asked about the RRP, Celler furiously declared that “a good law had been prostituted” and now was a “dismal failure.” To gain admittance to the United States, refugees were forced to clear “an obstacle course” of security investigations that, while intended to prevent the entry...

  4. CHAPTER 3 “From Hungary, New Americans”: The United States and Hungarian Refugees
    (pp. 60-85)

    Compared to the refugee problems created by Nazism, by World War II, and by the confluence of Soviet domination of eastern Europe and western Europe’s population pressures in the early 1950s, the Hungarian refugee crisis of late 1956 was like a thunderclap. While the former refugee flows evolved slowly over years, swift and stunning events in the fall of 1956—the overthrow of Hungary’s Stalinist regime by disaffected socialist revolutionaries followed by a massive Soviet invasion when the new Hungarian government attempted to remove the country from the Soviet Union’s military and political orbit—precipitated a flood of Hungarian refugees...

  5. CHAPTER 4 “Half a Loaf”: The Failure of Refugee Policy and Law Reform, 1957–1965
    (pp. 86-105)

    In the 1960s, the politics of newcomers focused both on the effort to overturn the national origins quota immigration system and on the admission of hundreds of thousands of refugees from Cuba. While these two episodes occurred contemporaneously, they did not influence each other as much as one might expect. The debates over immigration heated up in 1964 and 1965 during a lull in the Cuban migration, which helped keep the latter from informing the former. Just as important, the Cubans, like the Hungarians, for the most part did not enter under existing immigration law or a specific refugee law,...

  6. CHAPTER 5 “They Are Proud People”: The United States and Refugees from Cuba, 1959–1966
    (pp. 106-132)

    Immigration reform in 1965 did not substantively address the hundreds of thousands of refugees arriving from Cuba. The U.S. government’s decision in early 1959 to admit Cubans fleeing Fidel Castro’s revolution grew through the following decade into a massive commitment that by and large conformed to precedent. Cuban refugees, like their predecessors in the 1950s, were of European descent and opposed communism. While Cuba’s importance to the Cold War virtually ensured an American response to the refugee problem, a mix of domestic political and cultural concerns also explained U.S. actions. Cuban refugees entered the United States via an admissions process...

  7. CHAPTER 6 “The Soul of Our Sense of Nationhood”: Human Rights and Refugees in the 1970s
    (pp. 133-166)

    The Cuban refugee flow dissipated in the early 1970s, but the United States soon confronted two new refugee problems: Soviet Jews seeking to emigrate to the United States and refugees fleeing Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia. On the face of it, the decisions to admit Soviet Jews and the Indochinese look unsurprising. After all, both groups were fleeing communist states, which since 1953 had proven reason enough for entry into the United States. Their admission, though, was a departure because it disturbed the “refugee equals European, anti-communist” foundation of post–World War II American refugee policies. For the first time, the...

  8. CHAPTER 7 Reform and Retrenchment: The Refugee Act of 1980 and the Reagan Administration’s Refugee Policies
    (pp. 167-196)

    As the Indochinese refugee crisis stretched on through the late 1970s, the push for systemic reform of American refugee laws gained momentum. For advocates of refugee admissions, the ad hoc, successive paroles highlighted the need for an overhaul of the basic commitment to refugees. For skeptics of refugee admissions, those paroles pointed to the executive branch’s abuse of the parole codicil and symbolized an immigration system out of control. This debate over refugee affairs, moreover, came as immigration politics deadlocked. The larger liberalizer community by 1980 increasingly felt it was on the defensive, yet the restrictionist alliance was still disorganized...

  9. EPILOGUE The United States and Refugees after the Cold War
    (pp. 197-206)

    Refugees remained a fact of life in global affairs after the Cold War. The global refugee population decreased in the 1990s, and while estimates as to the size of the reduction varied by aid organizations, at least 12 million persons were refugees as the new century began. A quick review of international and regional politics confirms the changing and persistent nature of the refugee problem. With the end of the Cold War, some conflicts in Africa and Central America—which had been started, fueled, and sustained both by Soviet and American prodding and funding and (more important) by indigenous economic,...