Indochina Migration and Refugee Assistance Act

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The Indochina Migration and Refugee Assistance Act, passed on May 23, 1975, under President Gerald Ford, was a response to the Fall of Saigon and the end of the Vietnam War. Under this act, approximately 130,000 refugees from South Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia were allowed to enter the United States under a special status, and the act allotted for special relocation aid and financial assistance [1]

Historical Context[edit]

The end of the Vietnam War left millions of Southeast Asians displaced. In South Vietnam alone, the war had created over 6 million refugees from 1965 to 1971. Preceding May 1975, the United States policy for Southeast Asian refugee had been to assist by resettling them in safer areas of their home nations. As the war began to come to a close in early 1975, the State Department prepared an evacuation plan for U.S. forces as well as 18,000 Vietnamese refugees, but it quickly became apparent that this evacuation plan did not meet the incredible need of the refugees.[2] When the South Vietnam government rapidly deteriorated in April 1975, President Ford authorized an evacuation of up to 200,000 refugees.

Enactment and provisions[edit]

The Indochina Migration and Refugee Act was signed on May 23, 1975, and allocated funding of $305 million for the Department of State and $100 million for the Department of Health, Education and Welfare for the resettlement of Vietnamese and Cambodian refugees in the United States.[3] This act financed the transportation, processing, reception, and resettlement costs of more than 130,000 Vietnamese who had been evacuated from Vietnam during Operation Frequent Wind and who were granted parole by the Attorney General to enter the United States.

Most of the refugees were initially transported to Guam for processing (See Operation New Life) and then transported onward to temporary immigration centers set up at Eglin Air Force Base, Florida; Camp Pendleton, California; Fort Chaffee, Arkansas; and Fort Indiantown Gap, Pennsylvania. Although each refugee underwent a security check and could theoretically be denied admittance if he or she “violated a social norm, had a criminal record, or had offenses that were political in nature.” However, involuntary repatriation to Vietnam was not an option. A team effort of dozens of immigration agencies aided in the resettlement process, including the United States Catholic Conference, Church World Service, International Rescue Committee, Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society, the Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Services, the Tolstoy Foundation, the American Council for Nationalities Service, the American Fund for Czechoslovak Refugees, the Travelers Aid International Social Service of America, as well as several state and city service centers.[4] In 1975, almost 130,000 refugees were paroled through this system, which finished its initial operations at Fort Chaffee in December of that same year.[5] While the first year of the Act had come to a close, it opened the doors for years of mass refugee acceptance.

Opposition[edit]

Although many politicians thought it appropriate and necessary for the United States to provide a safe haven for those denied their human rights, some questioned the fairness of the Indochina Migration and Refugee Act for several reasons. Some, mostly conservative Republicans, argued that the refugees would never be able to assimilate to American culture and would detract from the value system already in place. Other legislators, like Representative Frank Sensenbrenner, were concerned with the price tag of committing so many immigrants, (roughly $1 billion per year) especially in a time of rising unemployment.[6] While many refugees were receiving financial assistance, economic success did not come easily and this usurpation of federal funding became an issue that not only lawmakers were paying attention too, but also the American public. Another group of opponents focused on the growing need of poor Americans. Representative John Conyers asked, "Should we be spending (federal dollars) on Vietnamese refugees or should we spend them on Detroit 'refugees?'"[7] A last group of opponents believed that presidents Ford and Carter were taking advantage of the parole system to allow mass amounts of people into the nation. In their eyes, the parole system should have been only used for people with specific cases, and certainly not for the processing of huge groups.

Support[edit]

Senator Edward Kennedy and Representative Liz Holtzman were the leaders of the refugee advocacy community, and the first supporters of the 1975 Act. They were backed by labor groups like the AFL-CIO and religious services, including the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society and Church World Service. Their goals to redefine the legal notions of "refugee status" and attain a more comprehensive amnesty policy were not realized until the Refugee Act of 1980.[8]

Implications[edit]

In response to the new need of welfare assistance to the new relocated refugees, the Indochinese Refugee Assistance Program was developed. This gave clearance for any Vietnamese, Cambodian, or Lao refugees to tap into the same resources that Cuban refugees had attained in the early 1970s, which included financial assistance and health, employment, and education services.[9] The Indochina Migration and Refugee Act was a watershed moment in U.S. Asian immigration policy. It opened the gates for displaced persons from Southeast Asia and also served as a symbol of commitment to those effected by the devastation from the Vietnam War. The decision by President Ford to admit such a substantial number of refugees was very much against public opinion and (despite attempts at thinning the refugee flow) the Carter Administration continued to commit thousands of refugees each year. By 1978, the U.S. was receiving thousands of refugees who had made their way by boat through the dangerous waters of the Pacific. This continued until refugee policy was reformed with the Refugee Act of 1980.[10] However, because of the positive global reception to the Indochina Migration and Refugee Act of 1975, the United States has continued to use a more liberal approach to refugee admittance, especially with those from areas the United States is militarily engaged with.[11]

References[edit]

  1. ^ Haines, David (1996). Refugees in America in the 1990s: a reference handbook. New York: Greenwood Press. 
  2. ^ Tempo, Carl (2008). Americans at the gate: the United States and refugees during the Cold War. Princeton: Princeton University. 
  3. ^ "Public Law 94-24, 23 May 1975. http://www.gpo.gov/fdsys/pkg/STATUTE-89/pdf/STATUTE-89-Pg89.pdf, accessed 26 Dec 2013
  4. ^ Haines, David (1996). Refugees in America in the 1990s: a reference handbook. New York: Greenwood Press. 
  5. ^ Marsh, Robert (October 1980). "Socioeconomic Status of Indochinese Refugees in the United States: Progress and Problems". Social Security Bulletin 43 (10). 
  6. ^ Tempo, Carl (2008). Americans at the gate: the United States and refugees during the Cold War. Princeton: Princeton University. 
  7. ^ Marsh, Robert (October 1980). "Socioeconomic Status of Indochinese Refugees in the United States: Progress and Problems". Social Security Bulletin 43 (10). 
  8. ^ Tempo, Carl (2008). Americans at the gate: the United States and refugees during the Cold War. Princeton: Princeton University. 
  9. ^ Haines, David (1996). Refugees in America in the 1990s: a reference handbook. New York: Greenwood Press. 
  10. ^ Tempo, Carl (2008). Americans at the gate: the United States and refugees during the Cold War. Princeton: Princeton University. 
  11. ^ Haines, David (1996). Refugees in America in the 1990s: a reference handbook. New York: Greenwood Press.