Contested Terrain: Debating Refugee Admissions in the Cold War

Sunday, January 6, 2019: 9:00 AM
Stevens C-1 (Hilton Chicago)
Laura Madokoro, McGill University
The historiography on refugee admissions to the United States and other white settler societies generally focuses on the work of state actors and the role of policies, regulations and laws in shaping the legal landscape in which refugees and migrants move. Lost in this focus is the critical role that civil society actors, namely secular and religious humanitarians, have played in shaping the social, cultural and political landscape in which reforms and initiatives have occurred.

To address this lacuna, this paper considers the history of civil society activism in effecting change to refugee admissions and humanitarian resettlement policies in the United States during the Cold War. It considers the critical years between 1945 and 1965 when diverse groups including the American Jewish Committee, the National Lutheran Council, the American Friends Service Committee, Aid Refugee Chinese Intellectuals Inc. and the United Presbyterians worked in different ways to secure the admission of refugees from Europe and Asia.

As this paper shows, these groups did not operate in tandem, indeed they often pursued reforms at cross-purposes. Yet it was the very diversity of their approaches and objectives that created a rich and robust environment in which discussions about moral responsibilities vis-à-vis the world’s refugees could flourish. Still, this diversity also ensured that the federal government could continue to minimize state responsibilities for assisting the world’s refugees. While civil society actors proved to be increasingly committed to refugee admissions from around the world over the course of the cold war period, the US government remained selective in its approach to refugee admissions. These tensions were ultimately captured in the language and scope of the immigration reforms advanced in the 1965 Immigration and Nationality Act.

Previous Presentation | Next Presentation >>