"Another foothold in our fight against communism": Race, Religion, and Public Relations in the Hungarian and Cuban Refugee Programs, 1956–1961
- U.S. Catholic Historian
- The Catholic University of America Press
- Volume 37, Number 3, Summer 2019
- pp. 43-76
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In responding to the refugee crises sparked by the 1956 Hungarian revolt and the 1959 Cuban Revolution, President Dwight D. Eisenhower's resettlement efforts were motivated less by humanitarian concern than by a "geopolitics of compassion" that imagined these two groups of Catholic and anti-communist escapees as valuable tools for achieving his foreign policy and domestic political objectives. Analyzing the similarities between Eisenhower's two ad hoc programs and delineating their previously unexplored linkages, I argue that both relied as heavily upon Eisenhower's personal networks as upon federal funding and direction, even as program leaders sought to obscure the executive-driven character of their work. Tracy S. Voorhees, the coordinator of both programs, framed the need to admit anti-communist escapees by asserting America's moral obligation to oppose the expansion of Soviet power, while reaffirming Americans' belief in the superiority of the democratic-capitalist system and the ostensibly humanitarian foundations of U.S. immigration policy. These discourses sought to "sell" Hungarians and Cubans to an immigration-averse public by emphasizing their affinity with American values, especially their Christian beliefs and dedication to hard work and family, even as they de-emphasized the escapees' Catholic identity.
Yet there were subtle but important differences between Eisenhower's responses to the two refugee crises. Historic anti-Latino biases combined with the Cuban exodus to inflame a latent racialized suspicion of Cubans. Voorhees paired assertions of America's obligation to provide sanctuary to those fleeing communist oppression with reassurances that Cuban exiles—unlike their white European Hungarian predecessors—would be temporary "guests." Thus, even before John F. Kennedy's dramatic funding increase and oversight of the Cuban Refugee Program, the distinct nature and context of the two refugee crises had produced variations in their resettlement and reception.