Social Work Practice with Immigrants and Refugees

By Pallassana R. Balgopal | Go to book overview

CHAPTER 6
REFUGEES IN THE 1990S: A U.S. PERSPECTIVE
Nazneen S. Mayadas and Uma A. Segal

There never was a golden age of “pure refugees” in the 1950s and 1960s that has now dissolved into widespread abuse. And when asylum seekers are dismissed as “merely economic migrants” we need to remind ourselves of the vicious circle in which poverty and hopelessness breed social disorder, social disorder breeds repression, and repression breeds persecution, violence, and the forced movements of people.

—Phillip Rudge, Refugees (1991:35)

Since its historical beginning, the United States has been a country of refuge for those fleeing from persecution. Based on the words etched on the Statue of Liberty, it has fulfilled its commitment to the dispossessed and downtrodden over the past two centuries and continues to do so today. The United States has been a key donor to the Office of United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees' (table 6.1), and until the 1990s, it accepted the largest number of the world's refugees. Recently, however, its policies of asylum have not always been applied equitably to asylees and refugees. Although the United States has admitted the most Southeast Asian refugees for third-country resettlement, its treatment of refugees from Central America, Mexico, and the Caribbean has not been as generous. Just as Hong Kong in the 1980s placed Vietnamese refugees in closed camps and forced them to repatriate, the U.S. Coast Guard in the 1990s prevented the Haitian boat people from landing on its shores (Redmond 1992). Those Haitians who did manage to land were sent back, unlike the east Europeans, who arrived as victims of the cold war in Europe during that period. Perhaps this reversal of policy and selectivity in welcome can be explained by the increasingly xenophobic reactions of the ‘public and the propaganda of the moral majority decrying the dissolution of the country's cultural heritage, economic stability, and national sovereignty. The rapid spread of “unfamiliar” ethnic groups that bring with them differences in race, creed, culture, and physical traits is thought to threaten the country's cherished homogeneity. As Pat Buchanan declared in his political platform of 1992, the 1965 Immigration Act

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