Immigration - The cold war and beyond

Even before the Cold War came to dominate almost every facet of American policies toward the rest of the world, attitudes about immigration and immigration policies were beginning to change, as were the policies themselves. The increasing prevalence of an internationalist ideology, membership in the United Nations, and a growing guilt about and horror at the Holocaust all combined to impel the United States to do something about the European refugee crisis symbolized by the millions of displaced persons there. After some crucial months of inaction, Harry Truman issued a presidential directive just before Christmas 1945 that got some refugees into the United States. One important and often over-looked aspect of this directive enabled voluntary agencies, largely religious, to sponsor refugees, which virtually negated the application of the "likely to become a public charge" clause in such cases. Previously, sponsorship of most refugees without significant assets had to be assumed by American relatives. But it was only after passage and implementation of the Displaced Persons Acts of 1948 and 1950 that the United States could be said to have a refugee policy, one that the increasingly more diverse personnel of the State Department helped to carry out. That legislation brought more than 400,000 European refugees into the United States and expanded the use of voluntary agencies—later called VOLAGS (Voluntary Agencies Responsible for Refugees)—such as the Catholic and Lutheran welfare organizations and the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Association. In addition, U.S. sponsorship of the United Nations Relief and Rehabilitation Administration and membership in its successors, the International Refugee Organization and the United Nations High Commission for Refugees, contributed to changed attitudes about and policies toward refugees even though general immigration policy remained tied to the quota principle introduced in 1921–1924, which lasted until 1965.

Even the notorious McCarran-Walter Immigration Act of 1952—a quintessential piece of Cold War legislation that passed over Truman's veto and seemed merely to continue the restrictive policies begun in 1921 and 1924—contained liberalizing provisions that were more significant than most of its advocates and opponents realized. Chief of these was the total elimination of a color bar in naturalization. While some of the impetus for this came from liberals on racial issues, the push from those impelled by Cold War imperatives was probably more important. State Department representatives and others testified how difficult it was to become the leader of what they liked to term the "free world" when American immigration and naturalization policies blatantly discriminated against the majority of the world's peoples. In addition, a growing understanding that an important diplomatic objective was to win the hearts and minds of peoples and not just the consent of governments made diplomats more aware of the significance of immigrants and immigration. For example, when Dalip Singh Saund, the first Asian-born member of Congress, was elected in 1956, the State Department and the United States Information Agency sponsored him and his wife on a tour of his native India.

Although the word "refugee" does not appear in the 1952 immigration act, an obscure section of it gave the attorney general discretionary parole power to admit aliens "for emergency reasons or for reasons in the public interest." This was the method that Roosevelt had used in 1944, without congressional authorization, to bring in nearly a thousand refugees. This allowed the executive branch to respond quickly to emergency situations such as the Hungarian revolt of 1956 and the Cuban revolution of 1959. Between the displaced persons acts of the Truman administration and the inauguration of Ronald Reagan in 1981 about 2.25 million refugees were admitted, with about 750,000 Cubans and 400,000 refugees from America's misbegotten wars in Southeast Asia the largest increments. Since during that period some 10.4 million legal immigrants entered the United States, refugees accounted for some 20 percent of the total.

Although most textbook accounts trace the transformation of post–World War II immigration and immigration policy to the act signed by Lyndon Johnson in the shadow of the Statue of Liberty in 1965, that is a gross exaggeration. The reality can be better glimpsed by considering the numerical incidence of immigration to colonial America and the United States over time. No official enumeration of immigration took place before 1819, but most authorities agree that perhaps a million European and African immigrants came before then. Between 1819 and the enactment of the 1924 immigration act some 36 million immigrants arrived. Between 1925 and 1945—with immigration inhibited first by the new restrictive law and then much more effectively by the Great Depression and World War II—nearly 2.5 million came, an average of fewer than 125,000 annually. In the decade before World War I more than a million came each year. Well into the post–World War II era, many authorities felt that as a major factor in American history immigration was a thing of the past, but as

Decade Number
1951–1960 2,515,479
1961–1970 3,321,677
1971–1980 4,493,314
1981–1990 7,338,062
1991–1998 7,605,068
(eight years only)

the table indicates, based on INS data, this was a serious misperception.

With the self deconstruction of the Soviet Union at the end of the 1980s, domestic policy began to reassume paramount importance in American policy, including immigration policy. Input from the Department of State assumed less significance in immigration matters than during the Cold War era, although the increased volume of immigration greatly taxed and often overtaxed American embassies and consulates. For example, the State Department was given the responsibility of administering the lottery provisions of the Immigration Reform and Control Act (IRCA) of 1986 and its successors. The department announced on 10 May 2001 that for the 2002 lottery its Consular Center in Williamsburg, Kentucky, had managed to sift 10 million qualified entries while rejecting an additional 3 million applicants for not following directions and notified 90,000 potential winners chosen at random what they had to do to gain admission to the United States as resident aliens. Each overseas applicant would have to pass an interview examination for eligibility at an American consulate; those applying from within the United States would apply through the INS. Only a maximum of 50,000 of the 90,000 could actually win and gain admittance to the United States along with certain of their qualified dependents. All paper work would have to be completed by 30 September 2002. Anyone who did not have a visa by then lost the presumed advantage of winning. Applications for the 2003 lottery were scheduled to take place during the following month, October 2002.

The major functions of IRCA were the socalled "amnesty," which legalized some 2.7 million immigrants illegally in the United States, the majority of whom were from Mexico, and the promise of effective control measures to "gain control of our borders" by more effective interdiction of illegal border crosses and intensified deportation of remaining resident illegals. This created great fears in many nations of the circum-Caribbean, particularly the Dominican Republic and El Salvador, whose economies were greatly dependent on immigrant remittances, that large numbers of their citizens would be excluded and their remittances ended. These fears were chimerical; borders remained porous. But, in the meantime, to cite just one example, President José Napoléon Duarte wrote President Reagan in early 1987 requesting that Salvadorans in the United States illegally be given "extended voluntary departure" (EVD) status, an aspect of the attorney general's parole power enabling illegal immigrants to remain. While EVD was usually granted on humanitarian grounds, Duarte stressed the economic loss if immigrant remittances ceased. Assistant Secretary of State Elliot Abrams, who had opposed EVD on humanitarian grounds, now supported it, but the negative views of the Department of Justice and the congressional leadership prevailed. Forms of EVD or its equivalent were put into place during the Clinton presidency for Salvadorans and Nicaraguans by both the administration and Congress.

The State Department also had to deal with increasing complaints from foreign countries about the execution of its citizens by the criminal justice systems of American states, most of which had been practicing capital punishment with increased enthusiasm at a time when many nations had abolished it. Since it is a legal action, the United States cannot even consider paying compensation of any kind.

The more than 25 million post-1950 immigrants, as is well known, have changed the face of America. As late as the 1950s, immigrants from Europe, who had contributed the lion's share of nineteenth-and early-twentieth century immigrants, still were a bare majority of all immigrants. By the 1980s, thanks largely to the liberal 1965 immigration act and the Refugee Act of 1980, the European share was down to about 10 percent, and immigrants from Latin America and Asia predominated. Although anti-immigrant attitudes again came to the fore in 1980s—sparked in part by Ronald Reagan's warnings about being overrun by "feet people"—and some scholars saw "a turn against immigration" and predicted effective legislative restriction of immigration, those feelings were not turned into an effective legislative consensus. At the beginning of the twenty-first century, immigration continued at a very high rate, and screening and facilitating that influx continued to be an important aspect of the work of American diplomacy.

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