by Brian Clarey
1. 1938-41: European Jews
All it takes for the United States to recognize people as a refugees is that they have a “well-founded fear of persecution” in their home countries. So when Hitler began his thing in Europe, pretty much every European Jew qualified. Thousands came to the United States in these years, and in 1944, FDR’s War Refugee Board helped bring thousands more in from the Eastern Bloc countries like Romania and Hungary.
2. 1948 Displaced Persons Act
With Europe still reeling from World War II, the United States passed legislation aimed specifically at European countries such as Italy, Austria, Germany and Czechoslovakia. Refugees who could stay out of jail and off public assistance could live here with their spouses and any children under 21.
3. 1960-80: Cuban Revolution
More than 1 million Cubans came to the United States after Fidel Castro’s coup in 1959, mostly aristocrats who had no place left in the society. In 1980, Castro declared that anyone who wanted to leave could do so, and the United States, under President Jimmy Carter, prepared to receive all with open arms. But while many political prisoners made it here during what became known as the Mariel Boat Lift, so too did thousands of Cubans recently liberated from that country’s jails and mental hospitals — that’s what the first scene from Scarface was all about. Miami would never be the same.
4. 1975-present: the Montagnards
When the Vietnam war came to a final end in 1975, US allies in the region were in danger. Hundreds of thousands of refugees from Indochina, including the tribal Montagnards, made their way to our shores — many of them settling in Guilford County. This inspired the Refugee Act of 1980, which created an infrastructure to serve all who sought asylum in our land. Since then, more than 70 million refugees have been resettled in our country, mostly from southeast Asia and the former Soviet Union.
5. 2015; the Syrians
President Obama announced this year his intention to fold 10,000 Syrian refugees, fleeing a civil war and terrorism in their own country, into our ranks. Compared to past waves of refugees, this is barely a trickle.