Published in Threatened Peoples, Threatened Borders: World Migration and U.S. Policy, Teitelbaum, Michael S. and Myron Weiner, eds. New York: The American Assembly, 1995.
Throughout the period of the Cold War, US refugee policy was consciously and, until the passage of the 1980 Refugee Act, explicitly a handmaiden of foreign policy. It was meant to contribute to the overarching objective of damaging and ultimately defeating communist countries, particularly the Soviet Union. (Refugees from communist China were never accorded the blanket welcome given to Soviet and East European refugees.)
The political impact of US Cold War refugee policy on its intended targets is far from clear. Although it was unequivocally aimed at destabilizing "enemy" regimes, its results were often mixed. A National Security Council Memorandum of 1953 characterized the Refugee Relief Act of 1953 as a means to "encourage defection of all USSR nationals and 'key' personnel from the satellite countries" and suggested that it would "inflict a psychological blow on Communism" and damage the Soviet economy through the hemorrhage of skilled professionals. It is, however, difficult to point to real damage done to the Soviet economy or political system because of US refugee policy, apart from the loss of prestige caused by high-profile defections.
In some cases, generous US reception policies allowed unfriendly regimes to rid themselves of their most acutely discontented citizens and those most politically active in opposition. There were also economic benefits to be gained from mass departures. Short-term benefits included the collection (or, sometimes, extortion) of "exit fees" (applied to Soviet Jews and ethnic Chinese from Vietnam, for example) and the ability to seize the assets and redistribute the housing of those who left. Long-term benefits came in the form of remittances that refugees, once established, sent back to their families remaining in the home country. Such flows have been major sources of foreign exchange for Cuba and Vietnam, among others.
As a political safety valve and economic crutch, the US Cold War policy of ecouranging refugee flows from "enemy" states may have done more to stabilize than destabilize unfriendly regimes. This argument was used, implicitly, to justify a turn-around in policy toward Cuban refugees in 1994. The withdrawal of open admissions, in response to the 1994 upsurge in Cuban outflows, generated relatively little opposition from Cuban-American activists and their political allies. They accepted -- and somtimes made -- the argument that Castro should not be allowed to release the discontented. The implication was that the would-be migrants should work to change the system in Cuba rather than escape from it.
In the past, such policies of discouraging refugee flows often served merely to abandon dissidents to their fate. The United States was reluctant to admit as refugees the Greeks fleeing from the Colonels' coup in 1967, Chileans escaping from Pinochet's Chile after 1973, and Salvadorans, Guatemalans and Haitians seeking asylum from right-wing dictatorships. In some cases, however, American reluctance to admit refugees was coupled with other policies that actively encouraged political change. Examples include support for the Solidarity movement in Poland (1981), tightening of the economic embargo and other measures against the Cuban government (1994), and humanitarian support for civilian populations in Bosnia (1992). In such cases, the policy of discouraging refugee flows can be seen as part of a strategy of opposition to a government in power rather than a sign of support for it.
With the passage of the 1980 Refugee Act, the legal basis of refugee admissions to the United States changed from political realism to humanitarian principle. The Act eliminated the geographical (Europe and the Middle East) and ideological (anti-Communist) grounds for granting refugee status. Actual practice, however, changed very little. In 1993, the overwhelming majority of US resettlement places for refugees from abroad still went to people from the former Soviet bloc and Indochina, relatively few of whom would meet the international standard for a claim on international protection.
This picture of stasis is somewhat misleading, however, for US policy on refugee issues is changing in fundamental ways. Even some of the advocates for the ex-Soviet and Indochinese entrants acknowledge that the programs that gave these groups special treatment as refugees are winding down, and that the current pipelines will be allowed gradually to empty. Refugee allocations are becoming more and more difficult to justify in the light of changing conditions in the countries of origin of these two groups; however, historical obligations, family ties and powerful domestic advocates may ensure that the refugee programs are replaced by special immigration programs.
As the Cold War era receded through the mid-1990s, the outlines of a post-Cold War refugee policy were slow to emerge with any clarity. But a pattern of U.S. response to the refugee crises of the 1990s suggested that it was becoming more common for foreign policy to be designed to achieve certain objectives in refugee policy, rather than exclusively the other way around. Even in cases where refugee flows were not a lead factor shaping policy, the implications for refugee flows of certain foreign policy decisions were much more likely to be high on the policy agenda. An examination of a number of refugee crises and responses in the 1990s shows that preventing, responding to, controlling or ending refugee outflows is an increasingly important objective of US foreign policy in a number of settings. This paper will examine some of those situations, the refugee constituency pressures that influence them, and the policy responses to them.
Refugee Policy in the Driver's Seat?
There are relatively few instances even now in which refugee policy can be said to drive US foreign policy, but these few are important. Supplementing them are an increasing number of situations in which an actual or threatened flow of refugees is in the forefront of the policy environment. Both categories include but are not are not limited to situations in which the United States is the direct recipient of refugees flows as a country of first asylum. The new prominence of refugee issues is apparent in a string of foreign policy crises descending in a line from the war in Iraq in 1990/91 and the subsequent Kurdish uprising to the confrontations with Haiti and Cuba in 1994.
In Northern Iraq, in the aftermath of a failed uprising following the war to reverse the annexation of Kuwait, some 400,000 Kurds fled to the Turkish border during a three-week period in April 1991. It was one of the largest and certainly the most rapid refugee exoduses the world had seen up to that point. US policy, despite its war with Iraq over the annexation of Kuwait, had not included any challenge to Iraqi sovereignty in Iraq; indeed, this was part of the reason the United States did not support more actively the Kurdish uprising. US policy makers were, however, unwilling to see their Turkish allies destabilized by a large-scale influx of Kurds from Iraq at a time when Turkey was (as it still is) engaged in armed confrontation with its own Kurdish minority. They were, therefore, determined not to put pressure on Turkey to open its border to the refugees.
As the Kurds began to suffer and die on the desolate hillsides opposite the border, pressure from Congressional advocates, media exposure of the plight of the refugees and, finally, public opinion drove the Bush administration to action. It instigated a military operation first to bring humanitarian relief to the Kurds and eventually to secure a safe haven for them in Northern Iraq. Refugee policy, in this instance, overturned the position that Iraqi sovereignty should be respected even in defeat as well as the strongly held view that US troops should leave the theater of war as quickly as possible. In fact, US troops are still there, protecting the Kurds who would otherwise become refugees and taking casualties in the process. Operation Provide Comfort and its aftermath rewrote the rules for humanitarian intervention; the reverberations of that aspect of US policy are still being felt.
Rwanda The 1994 refugee crisis in Rwanda pulled the United States into a form and degree of foreign involvement that it did not seek or desire -- and indeed, went some way to avoid. Lacking historical ties, cultural affinity, strategic interests or geopolitical concerns, US policy makers were extremely reluctant to be drawn into active involvement in Rwanda -- even indirectly through support for a UN peacekeeping mission involving no US troops. When the crisis broke in April 1994, a UN force of 2500 troops was present. It was drawn down to less than 500 by early May, as the main troop contributors withdrew their forces and the Security Council decided that the remaining force was too small to carry out its mandate. As the UN Secretary-General called for intervention to stop the massacres in April and May (massacres that continued well into July), the Clinton Administration made Rwanda the first test case for its new, restrictive policy on UN peacekeeping. Announced in May as Presidential Decision Directive 25, the new policy redefined UN peace operations as "a tool to provide finite windows of opportunity to allow combatants to resolve their differences and failed societies to begin to reconstitute themselves". It declared that the US would base its support for them on considerations of whether the mission supported US national interests and enjoyed domestic support. Neither could be said of Rwanda. US insistence on a painstaking review of the proposal for a newly mandated UN peacekeeping force delayed deployment in a period when an estimated 10,000 people a day were being killed, not in combat but in a carefully planned campaign of genocide. The Security Council, with the United States in a leading role, repeatedly deflected calls from Secretary-General Boutros-Ghali to increase the UN presence in Rwanda in order to shield civilians from the ongoing massacres. The US policy response to the crisis in Rwanda was one of determined disengagement, and it remained so throughout the period of the civil war. Apart from subduing action in the United Nations, US officials in April and May confined themselves to deploring and condemning the unfolding horrors, and offering some humanitarian aid to refugees. Despite calls for a more robust response from Congressional leaders in mid-June, and a report from the UN Human Rights Commission in late June characterizing the massacres in Rwanda as genocidal, the Administration refused to evoke the 1948 Convention on Genocide. Indeed, officials were cautioned to avoid use of the word, fearing that it would force them into action. The policy of non-involvement changed only in response to the refugee crisis that developed in July 1994. In the week of July 13-19 alone, 1.2 million people flooded across the Zairean border in the vicinity of the town of Goma. With as many as 3,000 people an hour reported to be crossing the border into this particularly desolate region, President Clinton assigned the Administrator of the Agency for International Development, Brian Atwood, to visit the burgeoning refugee camps in Zaire to assess the humanitarian needs there. By that time, a cholera epidemic was beginning to sweep the camps, and relief supplies and systems were completely overwhelmed. Upon his return to Washington, Atwood's meeting with the President was delayed, and the suppressed fury of refugee advocates erupted. With the complexities of intervention in the midst of a civil war no longer an obstacle, the delay in responding to the refugee crisis was denounced in strong terms, the message amplified by the press and in congressional hearings. Stung by the accusations that US indifference was allowing the tragedy of Rwanda to be compounded, the President met with Atwood ahead of schedule, and announced a stepped up program of financial and logistical support for the refugee relief effort. The program escalated throughout the following week, until by July 29 nearly half a billion dollars of aid had been committed, along with tons of equipment and 2000 US soldiers to deliver and distribute it. The President, Vice-President, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, National Security Adviser, and Deputy Secretary of Defense, among others, made the announcements. There was no doubt that the United States was, by August 1994, firmly and concretely engaged in Rwanda.
Cuba US refugee policy toward Cuba was, until August 1994, an outpost of Cold War policy in a post-Cold War world. Virtually all Cubans who fled the island were admitted to political asylum in the United States and allowed to proceed quickly to permanent residency. As the United States moved to more restrictive asylum policies generally, demanding high standards of proof of persecution from most asylum seekers, Cubans were still admitted even if their admitted motivation was the pursuit of a better life in economic terms rather than the "well-founded fear of being persecuted" that defines a refugee under international and US law. One of the rafters who arrived in Florida in August 1994 told the New York Times that "she just wanted something different for her self and her family. 'I was born in 1960. I was born with Fidel, and I want to have what I've never had before', she said. 'We never celebrated Christmas in Cuba.'" The change in US policy toward Cuban refugees was set in train in July 1994 after an attempted hijacking of a Cuban ferry boat was thwarted by the Cuban authorities with heavy loss of life among those who were hoping to use the boat to reach the United States. The incident set off anti-Castro riots in Havana. In response, Cuban President Fidel Castro Ruz let it be known that Cuban authorities would not stop people from leaving on their own small craft. During the summer months, more than 35,000 "rafters" were picked up by the US Coast Guard as they headed for Florida; an unknown number perished in the attempt. The exodus raised fears in the United States of another Mariel boatlift, which in 1980 had brought 125,000 Cubans and much political turmoil to the United States. Administration officials were keenly aware of the electoral disadvantages of presiding over a refugee influx seen to be out of control. (Mariel-related events were implicated in the defeats of both President Jimmy Carter and then Arkansas Governor Bill Clinton in 1980.) Similar disadvantages were perceived in conceding any bargaining advantage to Castro. The double policy imperative in approaching the crisis became a) control the outflow from Cuba, b) in a way that could not be perceived as a political victory for the Cuban president. The first part of this imperative required opening negotiations with the Cuban government. The second severely limited their scope. Only action by the Cuban authorities could bring order to the departures in the short run. But a lasting solution to the outflow of Cuban migrants would require not only political liberalization but also an improvement in economic conditions in Cuba, where a failed command economy staggered under the impact of continuing mismanagement, the loss of Soviet subsidies, and the effects of a comprehensive American economic embargo. Any negotiations to trade off the lifting of political repression and the regulation of migration for the lifting of the economic sanctions were anathema to the conservative Cuban-American forces most vocal on this subject. They continue to see the economic misery in Cuba as the most potent threat to Castro's continuation in power. On August 18, 1994, President Clinton announced that thenceforth Cubans rescued at sea would not be allowed to enter the United States but would be offered safe haven at the US naval base in Guantanamo, which was already in use as a safe haven for some 15,000 Haitian refugees. With that, he ended the 28-year-old policy of automatic political asylum for Cubans and with it the implication that all Cubans are subject to persecution. At the end of August, the Administration entered negotiations with Cuban officials, in effect conceding the point that the United States could and would deal with Cuba as a partner on matters of practical concern. The talks concluded successfully on September 9 with Cuban agreement to discourage boat departures and American agreement to increase sharply (to a minimum of 20,000 per year) the number of visas for Cubans wishing to emigrate legally to the United States. With the agreement, the United States committed itself to extend extraordinary immigration privileges to Cubans, even those without US relatives, special skills or claims to refugee status. The US negotiators refused to discuss a loosening of the embargo as the Cuban government had insisted; indeed, a tightening of the economic embargo was announced to placate domestic critics. To some Administration officials, the tightening of the embargo was an "own goal" against the long term policy of relieving emigration pressures in Cuba through political and economic liberalization. In their view, as reported in the New York Times, "the best way to promote a peaceful transition to democracy in Cuba is to increase, not decrease, the flow of Western ideas to Cuba, and that means increasing travel, telecommunications and student exchanges", among other things. Nonetheless, some saw the refugee negotiations as establishing a basis of communications that could lead to wider-ranging discussions in the future. It may be too early to conclude that the need to bring an end to the refugee influx from Cuba brought about a fundamental change in the US foreign policy stance toward Cuba. It did open practical negotiations on the immigration front. More importantly, it elevated the issue of Cuban-American relations on the foreign policy agenda, opening the prospect of an eventual resolution of the Cold War in the Caribbean.
Haiti For most of the Cold-War period, Haiti was a backwater of US foreign policy. Its dictators were minor but useful anti-Communist allies in the Caribbean, whose larcenous habits and appalling human rights abuses were largely overlooked as a result. They also cooperated with the US government in its efforts to control the flow of Haitian refugees and would-be migrants into the United States. In 1981, an agreement was concluded between the two countries that allowed the US Coast Guard to intercept Haitian vessels bound for the United States and return to Haiti those who were determined, on the basis of the most cursory inspection, to have no basis for an asylum claim. Between 1981 and 1991, some 24,600 Haitians were intercepted by the Coast Guard. Only 28 were permitted to enter the United States to apply for asylum; the rest were returned to Haiti. This pattern persisted until 1991, when Haiti's first democratically elected President, Jean-Bertrand Aristide, took office. During his tenure, the US Coast Guard found few Haitians at sea to intercept. After a military coup deposed Aristide on September 30, however, the departures soared. In the nine months following the coup, more Haitians were apprehended at sea than in the previous decade. With operations aboard the Coast Guard cutters overwhelmed and President Bush opened a processing center for the Haitians at the US naval base at Guantanamo Bay. Nearly a third of those screened were found to have a credible fear of persecution and were allowed to proceed to the United States. In May, 1992, with the numbers of Haitians in Guantanamo mounting steadily and the screening procedures under court challenge, President Bush issued an Executive Order to halt the screening and summarily repatriate all the Haitian boat people intercepted at sea. To soften the blow, the administration pledged to monitor the conditions of returnees, and opened processing centers in Haiti where people could apply for refugee status. Though the order was challenged as a violation of US and international refugee law, the Supreme Court ultimately allowed it to stand. President Clinton came to office in the midst of the controversy over Haitian refugees, having severely criticized the Bush policy of forcible return. From the beginning of the new Administration, US policy toward Haiti was driven by the refugee issue. Fearing an overwhelming influx of Haitian boat people to the US early in his presidency, President Clinton announced that he would temporarily retain the policy of interdiction and summary return. But he pledged a serious and concerted political effort to pressure the military junta to step down and permit the return of the elected president. The pressures on the new Administration were both internal and external. Clinton came to office with a stronger human rights orientation, and constituency, than his predecessor. Many of those he brought into office were uncomfortable with the policy of interdiction and return. Moreover, among the strongest advocates for Haitian refugees were the members of the Congressional Black Caucus, natural allies of the President whose support would be crucial to the success of his legislative program. Along with many others, the members of the Black Caucus objected strongly to the differential treatment given to Cuban and Haitian asylum-seekers. The former were routinely paroled in to the United States and given asylum, while the latter were turned away without so much as a hearing and returned to a country in which political murder was an everyday occurrence. It was particularly painful to this President to be accused of having a racist refugee policy. Weighed against the concerns of two of its core constituencies, the Democratic Administration was keenly aware of popular aversion to an uncontrolled influx of Haitian refugees, particularly in the electorally important state of Florida. Furthermore, key decision makers were convinced that a more generous asylum policy would act as a magnet, drawing to the United States not only the politically persecuted but many economically motivated migrants as well. The need to halt the flow of refugees drew the Administration into a more activist foreign policy toward Haiti, aimed at securing a return of legitimate government. To this end, limited sanctions were sought and imposed on Haiti through the United Nations in June 1993. A protracted negotiating process culminated in the Governor's Island Agreement, signed in July 1993, under which the military would relinquish power and Aristide would return. The agreement was, however, abrogated by the Haitian military when the time came for them to relinquish power. The demise of the Governors Island Agreement unleashed a heightened sense of frustration among refugee advocates in the United States. With hopes of a negotiated solution dashed, political violence in Haiti escalating, and the policy of interdiction still in place, pressure to change the refugee policy increased.
In March, 1994, the Black Caucus introduced a bill in the House of Representatives to tighten the economic embargo against Haiti, cut commercial flights to and from the United States, block Haitian financial assets held in the United States, and stop the summary return of Haitian asylum-seekers interdicted at sea. Over the next several months, all of these steps became Administration policy, although the bill was never brought to a vote. It became increasingly clear that, for the refugee flow, the only cure was prevention, and the only acceptable form of prevention was the restoration of elected government in Haiti. This became the focus of US policy.
Perhaps the most significant of the many turning points in the development of the US stance came as a direct result of pressure on the refugee issue. The African-American activist Randall Robinson embarked on hunger strike in April 1994 to protest the policy of interdiction and summary return. On May 8, the Administration announced that Haitian refugees picked up at sea would have their claims to refugee status adjudicated at sites in the region. The President also announced that he would consider using US military force to eject the ruling junta and restore the elected President, if all other methods of persuasion failed. In describing the US interests that would justify such a move, he cited on May 19 Haiti's proximity to the United States and the likelihood of a continuous "massive outflow" of refugees to US shores.
This theme was repeated by Administration officials throughout the summer. For example, on June 8, Deputy Secretary of State Strobe Talbott said "But the two principal ways in which the Haitian crisis...impinges on the vital interests of the United States are, first, it represents an affront and a potential reversal to the trend of democratization in this hemisphere....And second, of course, because that catastrophe is so severe, one of its results is an outpouring of refugees, many of whom of course do want to come to the United States. And if all of them came...that would put a considerable burden on the United States."
In July, the policy of screening Haitian boat people gave way to a policy of offering temporary safe haven to all who expressed a fear of returning to Haiti. The US base at Guantanamo again became host to thousands of people awaiting a change of regime in Haiti that would make it safe for them to return home. US policy makers made it clear that such a change must take place in the near future, and obtained a UN resolution authorizing the use of "all necessary means" to restore democracy to Haiti.
President Clinton addressed the nation on September 15, 1994, to explain the reasons for the impending US intervention, which began four days later. He dwelt on the impact of the refugee exodus from Haiti at some length:
The most extreme act of foreign policy, the use of armed force, was thus explicitly justified as an outgrowth of a refugee crisis. Refugee Constituencies and US Foreign Policy
The impact of refugee policy on broader US foreign policy objectives is often magnified -- and in some cases virtually created -- by concerted political action on the part of refugee communities resident in the United States. A number of diaspora groups have developed sophisticated political lobbyists, with strong influence on politics and policies in the countries where they or their forebears found refuge.
The word "refugee" invokes visions of despair, displacement, powerlessness. The political vitality of refugee communities is often overlooked, and their political activism discounted, because of this passive image -- and because new refugees lack the power to vote. But many refugees have acquired that status precisely because of their political activity, and are likely to continue their political activism in exile. Among them, foreign policy has a high priority, since it has defined their current exile and is likely to be shaping the lives of family and friends left behind in the home country.
Many refugee groups focus their political energies on developments in the country of origin or within the expatriate community. They may support parties, candidates, or clandestine organizations at home. Some devote themselves to preparing for return, or to establishing support for political movements in exile -- the Ayatollah Khomeini in Paris and Benito Aquino in Boston being two prominent examples. Refugees often have a strong impact on political events in their home countries, whether through direct action or through "political remittances" -- the transmission of values, experiences with democratic institutions, habits of loyal opposition and appreciation of a free press.
In many cases, the factionalism of home-country politics dogs refugee politics and robs it of efficacy. Cambodian refugees -- split among Khmer Rouge, Royalist, Republican and Phnom Pen factions -- have had little impact on the policy debate in the United States. The Oromo and Amhara may pursue their mutual grievances with each other in exile without generating larger awareness or support for Ethiopian issues in the U.S. polity at large.
As refugee communities put down roots in the United States, however, some groups succeed in grasping the levers of the domestic political systems. Their influence gains momentum as adjustment and naturalization proceed. Over time, for some groups, political activity ceases to be confined to inward-looking exile circles and is projected into the national foreign policy debate. Refugee communities -- including the native-born descendants of refugees -- who combine political skill, focus and financial commitment have come to exert considerable influence on particular aspects of U.S. foreign policy. The Cuban, Jewish and Armenian communities are well established political forces, and Vietnamese Americans are beginning to exercise their collective political muscle.
Cuban-Americans One of the most impressive examples of refugee influence in foreign policy can be found among Cuban-Americans. Cuban-Americans were a minimal population in the United States until refugees began pouring into the US after Fidel Castro Ruz took power in 1959. Between 1960 and 1970, more than 400,000 Cubans came to the United States, settling in particular around Miami, Florida. Today Cuban-Americans number over one million. Such a large constituency concentrated in one city has a strong political punch in the state and the country. As Robert Bach notes, "No other immigrant group to the US...has been able to use as effectively its opposition to the new government to influence US foreign policy." Several factors account for the Cuban-American community's strength. To begin with, the exile population is, in general, educated, skilled, and prosperous. In addition, the large Cuban-American community served and continues to serve as a social and economic safety net. Adjustment to the United States is made much easier through an established and generous Cuban-American community. The early refugees were politically active in Cuba and had many contacts in Washington. Political activity continues at a high rate among Cuban-Americans. They register and vote at levels much higher than the average US population. Also, the Cuban-American constituency offers a largely cohesive and united voice against the Castro government, which is relayed to Washington almost exclusively by one powerful lobby, the Cuban-American National Foundation (CANF). Lastly, the US government is keenly interested in Cuba. During the Cold War, Cuba, as the Soviet satellite nearest the United States, was an especially sore spot on the US foreign policy agenda. As a Cold War maneuver to show the superiority of American capitalism over Cuban communism, US policy encouraged Cuban refugees into the country and offered them generous assistance. Even though the East-West conflict is over, Cuba remains an unresolved nemesis and the Cuban-American lobby uses this irritation to its advantage. The CANF is the most influential Cuban-American lobby by far, described by some as "a millionaires' club of right-wing exiles with a hefty campaign war chest." The Foundation has over 50,000 members and sixty-five directors who contribute $10,000 each to the organization, in addition to pledging $10,000 more to political campaigns. One of the first major successes of the CANF was the establishment of Radio Marti in 1983, a Voice of America broadcast program to Cuba. The bill which founded the Radio with $10 million was strongly supported by Florida's Congressional delegation, spurred by large Cuban-American constituencies. However, Radio Marti has received strong criticisms from less hard-line observers for serving as a CANF mouthpiece at a cost of $15 million a year in public funds. A large constituency and budget spell political power and access. The continued isolation of Cuba, even after there is no longer a Soviet threat, can be attributed to Cuban-American pressure, especially from the Foundation. As one Bush administration official said, "The Foundation has had a chilling effect on the debate. Anytime anyone starts to think creatively about Cuba we're told: What do you want to do, lose South Florida for us?" The conservative exile groups were able to overcome objections both from the Bush administration and US allies in order to pass the Cuba Democracy Act of 1992, which forbids foreign subsidiaries operating in the United States to trade with Cuba. Congressman Robert Torricelli (D-NJ), the sponsor of the Act, was likely motivated by the 85,000 Cuban-Americans of his state who could provide crucial support for his ambitions to run for Senator or Governor in the future. President Bush opposed the Act until presidential candidate Clinton was winning more Cuban-American votes with his endorsement. Clinton merely stated, "I like it (Cuban Democracy Act)" and managed to raise $125,000 for his campaign from the Cuban-American community. As President, Clinton has continued his predecessors' policy of isolating Cuba. The conservative Cuban-American constituency continues to dominate the US-Cuba policy debate, even though the Cold War is over and a liberal administration is in office.
Jewish AmericansAn even stronger show of political power on the part of a former refugee population can be seen among American Jews. Most American Jews or their forebears came to the United States to escape religious persecution, most importantly in the aftermath of the Holocaust. Today, American Jews number 8.1 million and the United States continues to admit Soviet Jews through refugee programs at the rate of 35,000-50,000 per year. The American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), the Jewish-American community's most powerful voice, is often used as an example to emulate among other ethnic lobbies in the United States. With an annual budget of about $15 million and a membership of 50,000, AIPAC is well equipped to press its agenda forward. For AIPAC, along with numerous other politically active Jewish organizations, foreign policy is high on that agenda. For this among other reasons, Israel is the single largest recipient of US aid, with a total of $3 billion a year. Monetary assistance to Israel does not stop there, however. In 1992, $10 billion in loan guarantees were granted to Israel, in order to resettle hundreds of thousands of Soviet Jews. Members of Congress received 50,000 telephone calls in support of the appropriation, and 1,200 Jewish-American activists worked to secure its passage. However, the loan guarantees experienced considerable opposition from President Bush, who was concerned about the effect of further Jewish settlement on the Middle East peace process. The lobbying efforts were only one factor that influenced the final outcome; more importantly, a new Israeli government under Rabin promised to curb Jewish settlement in the occupied territories. The Soviet Jews who are not resettled in Israel are welcomed by the United States. In 1988, there was considerable controversy over the almost unquestioned admission of Soviet refugees, in some cases without even a claim of actual persecution. Soon after, refugee processing in Moscow was more strictly administered, not without substantial protests from the Jewish-American community however. Leaders from the community met with Attorney-General Thornberg and INS Commissioner Alan Nelson. In addition, the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society (HIAS) had a 52-page legal memorandum prepared by the Fried, Frank, Harris, Shriver & Jacobson law firm. Finally, Jewish-American constituent pressures triggered the Morrison-Lautenberg Amendment. Representative Bruce Morrison (D-CT) and Senator Frank Lautenberg (D-NJ) initiated an amendment which lowered the persecution threshold for refugee status for certain groups, including Soviet Jews. In the Senate, the Lautenberg amendment received a 97-to-0 vote (not one Senator spoke against the legislation) and the House voted 358-to-44 to pass the Morrison amendment. The natural result has been a high acceptance rate of Soviet Jews for resettlement in the United States. More than 133,000 Soviet Jews (about 30% of all refugee arrivals to the US) have already resettled in the United States since Fiscal Year 1990. In addition, Soviet Jews account for about 80 percent of refugee admissions to the United States from the former Soviet Union. The large numbers are primarily the result of years of lobbying by the Jewish-American community. The recent Jewish refugee arrivals from the former Soviet Union are becoming yet another political force within the Jewish-American population. The Soviet Jews have chosen to develop their own political and social identity and are now re-living the stages of political development which their sponsors experienced; they are now beginning to organize. The Soviet Jewish community does not yet have the political clout but the seed, the desire to influence policy, has already been sowed. One Soviet-Jewish activist commented, "...we have thousands of experienced people. The goal is to continue to make a unit of our community to involve more and more people...and in the tradition to be a Jew. To help our friends, our relatives in Israel, to help our friends and relatives in Russia...." Today's generous response to the Soviet-Jewish refugees sparks a stark contrast to a half a century ago when a boat load of Jews fleeing the Holocaust were turned away. The Jewish-American voice was barely audible then. Today, the numbers and the political and economic abilities of the Jewish-American population make it impossible to ignore their concerns.
Armenian-Americans Like the Jews, Armenians have also fled from religious and ethnic persecution. The majority of Armenians came to the US after fleeing genocide in Ottoman Turkey. The first wave came in the mid-1890's. The first of the mid-1890 massacres began in 1894 and resulted in the arrival of 50,000 Armenians in the United States that year. By 1899, 70,000 Armenians had fled to the US. Today, their descendants number about one million. The heaviest concentrations of Armenians are in Southern California, Massachusetts and Michigan. Several organizations represent the Armenian-American community's political concerns: Armenian Assembly, Armenian National Committee of America (ANCA) and Armenian American Action Committee. Their political clout can be seen in very large aid packages to Armenia. Armenia is the smallest republic of the former Soviet Union; yet as of 1993 this small nation received the second highest amount of US aid ($335 million) -- second only to Russia. Also, Armenia had the highest per capita aid at $98 per person; Russia received only $14 per capita. Armenian-American political pressure can also be seen in the 1992 Freedom Support Act, which extended aid to all former Soviet republics except Azerbaijan, the republic that has since 1988 been at war with Armenia over the enclave of Nagorno-Karabakh. The Armenian-American lobby successfully pushed for a provision of the Act (Section 907) which denies Azerbaijan US government aid (excepting only humanitarian assistance) until the country ceases its blockade on Armenia and Nagorno-Karabakh. Despite recent efforts at repeal, this provision still stands. Perhaps the most emotional and controversial issue for Armenian-Americans is the recognition of the Armenian Genocide, which Turkey continues to deny. Every year the Armenian community mobilizes to honor the victims and lobby their Congressional representatives to do the same -- a gesture extremely unpopular with a strategic NATO ally. Nevertheless, the lobbying efforts and voting power of the Armenian-American population have proved to be powerful pressures. In April 1994, more than one hundred Senators and Representatives spoke in Congress to commemorate the Armenian Genocide. Lastly, the Armenian-American lobby also influenced the previously mentioned Morrison-Lautenberg amendment. Unlike the Jewish-American community, the Armenian-American population was unclear on its position towards Armenian refugees from the Soviet Union. Many political activists from the community did not want Soviet Armenians to be considered as one of the persecuted categories. Armenians in America felt that a massive exodus from the homeland would drain the already weak country. Lori Titizian, the western regional director of the Armenian National Committee, stated, "As a policy we do not like to see Armenians leave the Soviet Union. We do not consider them political refugees." In addition, Levon Marashlian, an Armenian historian, was quoted as saying, "They (Armenians) are not really victims of persecution in Soviet Armenia. Virtually all Armenians organizations are against this emigration." As a result, Soviet Armenians, who are Orthodox Christians, were excluded from the Morrison-Lautenberg Amendment, even though the Amendment included Evangelical Christians as a persecuted category.
Vietnamese-Americans There are still many other refugee voices in the United States. For instance, the Vietnamese community may not be as politically potent as the aforementioned lobbies; yet, it does have an impact. The community is fairly new, beginning serious growth only in 1975, yet it has already grown to over one million, 300,000 of whom are US citizens. A recent Los Angeles Times poll reported nearly 60 percent of Vietnamese-American citizens in Southern California are registered to vote and 79 percent believed it was important to participate in American politics. Their political activity is likely to gain momentum as more and more Vietnamese naturalize. Over 80 percent of the non-citizens within the Southern Californian community expected to naturalize in the next few years. The Vietnamese-American community is working to empower these new voters. Several leaders have been promoting an aggressive voter registration drive. Vietnamese-Americans have shown impressive organization and political skills, having survived, integrated and organized politically within twenty years. There are a number of organizations working to influence US foreign policy: the National Congress of Vietnamese Americans (NCVA), National Association for Education and Advancement for Cambodian, Laotian and Vietnamese Americans (NAFEA), Boat People SOS, Families of Vietnamese Political Prisoners Association, and the Vietnamese-American Political Action Committee among others. The Vietnamese-American lobby has scored at least four foreign policy successes in recent years. They include the enactment of Radio Free Asia, a lawsuit victory against the State Department, the freeing of Vietnamese political prisoners and the "Vietnamese Human Rights Day" Bill. Vietnamese-American activists have been pushing for Radio Free Asia for over a decade, through letter campaigns and meetings with members of Congress. Unlike a divided Chinese-American community, the Vietnamese offered a united voice in support of the Radio which helped pass the bill in April, 1994. The Vietnamese-American community has also influenced US policy towards Vietnamese refugees. In March 1994, 250 Vietnamese-Americans sued the State Department to force it to review the US immigration applications of Vietnamese boat people held in Hong Kong, rather than repatriating them and forcing them to reapply for immigration to the United States from Vietnam. The involvement of Vietnamese-Americans has also been instrumental in releasing thousands of political prisoners in Vietnam. Vietnamese-Americans were members of the first delegation to speak with Vietnamese government officials about releasing political prisoners. The April 1989 meetings were the first in which the Vietnamese government had agreed to meet with expatriates from the United States. These talks helped lead the way to an agreement between the United States and Vietnam to resettle Vietnamese political prisoners in the United States. In the agreement's first five years, 100,000 Vietnamese who have resettled in the United States under its terms. Seventy thousand more Vietnamese are expected to be released within the remaining three years of the agreement. The most recent political success has been the designation of May 11, 1994 as "Vietnam Human Rights Day." The bill, introduced by Representative Leslie Byrne of Virginia, urges the Vietnamese government to protect human rights and hold free elections -- two foreign policy priorities among the Vietnamese-American community.
Conclusion The refugee debate in America is often focused on the costs of resettlement and the goods and services that refugees receive. Such discussions paint a distorted picture of a rather passive group which waits to be acted upon. However, the above illustrations show several vibrant communities who are keen to utilize their political powers to help themselves and the homeland they -- or their parents or grandparents -- fled. The political activism of Cuban, Jewish, and Armenian Americans is seen as a model by other refugee communities such as the Vietnamese and Haitians. If new refugee groups come to be as successful in presenting a unified front and in mobilizing financial resources to press their agenda, it is likely that today's refugee admissions will influence tomorrow's foreign policy.
BROADER IMPLICATIONS FOR FOREIGN POLICY
The influence of refugee crises and constituency groups can be seen in certain specific areas of foreign policy, some of which have been discussed above. However, the effects on foreign policy of US refugee policies as conducted in the 1990s reach well beyond the particular issues to which they are designed to respond. The broader implications of refugee policy include the disposition of funds for foreign policy implementation, the freedom of action of major powers, and the future of multilateralism. These wider implications add up to a strong case for earlier, preventive action when refugee crises threaten to develop. The disposition to respond to humanitarian needs only after a mass displacement has reached the crisis phase raises the costs of intervention. When the Rwandan crisis broke, the UN Security Council voted to reduce the UN Peacekeeping mission (UNAMIR) to less than a quarter of its existing size, against the advice of the Secretary-General. The remaining UNAMIR troops lacked the logistical capacity to rescue Tutsi refugees who had gathered at sites in Kigali and the surrounding area. Those left behind were easy prey for murderous militias; the small and ill-equipped UN force could do little but bear witness to the horrors unfolding around it. With hindsight, many in the relief community argue that an early investment of perhaps $10 million in preventive protection could have saved thousands of lives and millions of dollars that must now be devoted to relief and reconstruction. As a western diplomat based at the United Nations told the New York Times in July, "There is no question that we are going to have to spend 10 times as much money and 10 times as much effort to deal with refugees in Rwanda than we would have if we had had the political will to go in and quell the fighting." With the price tag for the international relief operation for Rwanda now approaching one billion dollars, that assessment now looks like an underestimate. The funds for massive refugee relief operations like that in and around Rwanda, or military operations to intercept, shelter or return refugees compete with other budgetary items. The US contribution to Rwandan refugee relief is nearly $500 million. Seeking a supplemental appropriation to cover some $270 million of that, Secretary of Defense Perry warned in August that the diversion of Pentagon funds to emergency relief could threaten US military preparedness. In September, the Defense Department estimated that an invasion of Haiti would cost a minimum of $427 million, on top of the $200 million already spent on interdicting and sheltering Haitian refugees. Ultimately, it is feared that such crisis response and emergency relief operations will divert funds from longer term development efforts -- precisely the kinds of investments that may blunt some of the pressures that give rise to refugee-generating conflicts in the first place. In 1994, the budget of the office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) exceeded that of the UN Development Program for the first time. At $1.4 billion, the UNHCR budget is twice what it was in 1989. A refugee policy that responds to emergencies only at the eleventh hour is an expensive policy. The United States is not alone in its reluctance to get involved in refugee crises that are physically remote and involve no direct threat to national security. As a matter of policy, however, the widespread adoption of this stance risks a return to great power spheres of influence in the Third World. Faced with an array of refugee-generating conflicts, the United Nations Security Council has approved US intervention in Haiti, French intervention in Rwanda, and Russian intervention in Georgia. The pattern makes the veneer of multilateralism look increasingly thin, and is likely to erode global support for such actions in the future. A more positive result of the aversion to direct involvement in refugee crises remote from the national interest is the increasing tendency to look to multilateral institutions, often working with private sector organizations, to cope with mass displacements. The capacities of organizations like UNHCR and the International Organization for Migration (IOM) have been augmented. Handing over responsibility for refugees to the UN agencies, the Red Cross movement, and international private relief agencies has to some extent pushed the US government toward the "assertive multilateralism" foreseen in the 1992 presidential campaign, from which in other areas it has pulled back. On the other hand, handing over tasks without handing over the resources to fulfill them can only be seen as an evasion of responsibility. If a reactive, short-term refugee policy holds dangers for broader US foreign policy objectives, a more considered refugee policy focused on early preventive action holds promise. Prevention worthy of the name addresses the causes of refugee flows -- rather than simply bottling them up -- and dovetails with broader objectives such as observance of international human rights standards, mediation of ethnic conflicts, the rule of law and representative government. A foreign policy that is consistent and rigorous in the pursuit of these objectives is effective refugee policy as well. Over the long term, it is likely to reduce the high cost in blood, treasure and political credibility of late responses to full-blown emergencies.
Newland, Kathleen. "The Impact of U.S. Refugee Policies on U.S. Foreign Policy: A Case of the Tail Wagging the Dog?" in Threatened Peoples, Threatened Borders: World Migration and U.S. Policy. Teitelbaum, Michael S. and Myron Weiner, eds. New York: The American Assembly, 1995.
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