In sum, the United States has always accepted refugees, even though such immigrants were not necessarily defined in the immigration laws. Government officials in Washington, including members of Congress and the president, often responded to overseas crises by linking refugees to foreign policy. A variety of nationality, religious, and ethnic private groups also pressured the government to admit refugees. Most of the admissions, from the arrival of exiles from the French Revolution in the 1790s to World War II, were permitted because the nation wished to inform the world that the United States was an "asylum for mankind."
After World War II, refugee policy underwent change. America's new role in the world prompted political leaders to admit thousands of refugees and displaced persons in Europe. As the Cold War came to dominate American foreign affairs, most refugees were perceived as fleeing communism. With the collapse of the Soviet Union and communism in eastern Europe, America changed the type of refugee it was willing to receive, but that new policy was still heavily influenced by foreign affairs and domestic politics.
From 1789 to the present, refugee policy was often made on an ad hoc basis. Even following the 1965 immigration act's provisions and the Refugee Act of 1980, government officials often responded to political pressure groups in determining which persons were accepted. Cubans were refugees but Haitians were not. Refugee policy differs little from immigration policy in that it is often confused, ad hoc, and constantly changing. For the immediate future it appears that these policies will continue to be the result of foreign affairs and internal pressures.