2.8 Appendix

Appendix: Refugee Policy: A Brief History

Until the mid-1900s, there was no separate policy for refugee admittance to the U.S. All immigrants admitted, including refugees, needed to fall within the established quotas. During World War II, the government began making shifts in order to provide haven for those in need (US English Foundation, 2016).

  • 1948 Displaced Persons Act: This was the first U.S. policy for refugees. It allowed Europeans to enter the U.S., establishing a quota for the number of persons fleeing persecution after World War II who would be permitted to enter (US English Foundation, 2016).
  • 1953 Refugee Relief Act: This act authorized admission of hundreds of thousands of refugees, escapees, or expellees from Europe and Communist-dominated countries, outside the limits of the established quota (US English Foundation, 2016).
  • 1967 Protocol. In 1951, the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) held the Conventional Relating to the Status of Refugees, creating the definition of refugee in Textbox 1. It was amended later with the 1967 Protocol. The 1967 Protocol was ratified by the United States in 1968. This ratification began to move U.S. policy on refugees from individual legislative decisions about whether or not to provide refuge to a particular group, to developing a more comprehensive plan in line with the UNHCR (UNHCR, 2014).
  • 1965 Hart-Celler Immigration Act and 1978 Immigration and Nationality Act Amendments. These acts repealed the exclusionary national ethnicity quotas. It introduced the current process of setting refugee admittance ceilings each year (Center for Immigration Studies, 1995).
  • 1980 Refugee Act: This act defined refugee and asylee, attempting to follow the United Nations Criteria, and established a process for their admittance (Fix & Passel, 1994; US English Foundation, 2016). It also created the Office of Refugee Resettlement and established a process of resettlement, including providing economic, medical, and social support (Fix & Passel, 1994).
  • 1990 Immigration Act: This act granted temporary protected status to refugees from war-torn countries (US English Foundation, 2016).
  • 2001 Patriot Act: This act provided humanitarian assistance and special immigrant status for family members of those attacked in 9/11 (US English Foundation, 2016)

The American experience with refugees over the past seventy years has ranged from acceptance to rejection, from well-wrought program efforts to botched policy decisions, from humanitarian concerns to crass politics. The U.S. Department of State has been both the fabricator of paper walls to exclude refugees and the locus of intense efforts to move them quickly into the United States. Religious and secular voluntary agencies have been lauded for their efforts on behalf of refugees and chided for providing inconsistent services. Refugees themselves have been characterized as true American success stories and criticized as overly dependent on public welfare. The American people, in turn, have often been impressively generous in their welcome of refugees but at other times neglectful, disinterested, and sometimes hostile.

David Haines, in Safe Haven? A History of Refugees in America.


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Immigrant and Refugee Families, 2nd Ed. Copyright © 2019 by Jaime Ballard, Elizabeth Wieling, Catherine Solheim, and Lekie Dwanyen is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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