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Americans at the Gate

The United States and Refugees during the Cold War

Carl J. Bon Tempo

Publication Year: 2008

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 Gate explores 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 Gate considers policy and law developments in connection with the organization and administration of refugee programs.

Some images inside the book are unavailable due to digital copyright restrictions.

Published by: Princeton University Press

Series: Politics and Society in Twentieth-Century America

Title Page, Copyright

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pp. i-v


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pp. vii

List of Illustrations

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pp. ix

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pp. xi-xii

The staffs of the Truman, Eisenhower, Kennedy, Johnson, and Ford Presidential Libraries were invaluable in aiding my search through their voluminous holdings as I began research. I owe special thanks to Rod Ross at the Center for Legislative Archives who always answered my e-mails and...

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INTRODUCTION: Americans at the Gate

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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...

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CHAPTER 1. "The Age of the Uprooted Man": The United States and Refugees, 1900–1952

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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...

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CHAPTER 2. "A Mystic Maze of Enforcement": The Refugee Relief Program

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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...

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CHAPTER 3. "From Hungary, New Americans": The United States and Hungarian Refugees

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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...

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CHAPTER 4. "Half a Loaf": The Failure of Refugee Policy and Law Reform, 1957–1965

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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...

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CHAPTER 5. "They Are Proud People": The United States and Refugees from Cuba, 1959–1966

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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...

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CHAPTER 6. "The Soul of Our Sense of Nationhood": Human Rights and Refugees in the 1970s

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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...

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CHAPTER 7. Reform and Retrenchment: The Refugee Act of 1980 and the Reagan Administration's Refugee Policies

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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...

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EPILOGUE: The United States and Refugees after the Cold War

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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...


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pp. 207-256


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pp. 257-264

E-ISBN-13: 9781400829033
E-ISBN-10: 1400829038
Print-ISBN-13: 9780691123325
Print-ISBN-10: 0691123322

Page Count: 280
Publication Year: 2008

Edition: Course Book
Series Title: Politics and Society in Twentieth-Century America