The Law: Federal legislation that created a means of admitting displaced persons outside the national quota system on an emergency basis
Date: Enacted on August 7, 1953
Significance: Five years after passage of the Displaced Persons Act of 1948, the Refugee Relief Act of 1953 allowed anticommunist refugees, or those who had reason to fear living under communist control, entry into the United States under a special set of regulations. Anticommunist refugees, ethnic Germans who had previously resided in nonGerman countries but who had been expelled after the collapse of Nazi Germany, war orphans, and members of military forces who had fought on the Allied side during World War II all became eligible for immigration to the United States under special quotas. However, with the exception ofwar orphans, these refugees had to prove that if they were unable to emigrate, they would become subject to government persecution in their own countries.
The Refugee Relief Act of 1953 provided an additional 205,000 immigration visas for specific categories of aliens, their spouses, and their dependent children. An additional 4,000 visas were made available for orphans under the age of ten whom U. S. citizens had agreed to adopt. The law made these visas available until the end of 1956 in order to allow U. S. immigration officials time to investigate individual immigrants’ applications. The lengthy application and investigation process also allowed immigrant assistance groups in the United States time to raise sufficient funds to cover the transportation and resettlement of refugees in the United States.
Under the law, every adult applicant had to provide suitable proof of identity. Those who claimed they were threatened by persecution or feared they would be persecuted on the basis of their race, religion, or ethnic origin, also had to provide sufficient documentation of those threats to warrant their emergency immigration. Applicants also had to provide evidence of their employability in the United States and assurances that neither they nor any members of their families immigrating with them would go on welfare in the United States. Finally, applicants had to show that whatever jobs they took would not displace American workers.
The largest number of visas, 55,000, was reserved for ethnic Germans then residing in Allied-controlled sections of Germany who had been expelled from their homes in eastern European countries at the end of World War II. The second-largest number of visas, 45,000, was reserved for Italians who found themselves living in Soviet-controlled portions of Yugoslavia after the end of the war. Another 35,000 visas were reserved for applicants of any ethnic origin who had managed to escape from territories controlled by the Soviet Union immediately following the war. These people had to reach Austria or Allied-controlled sectors of Germany in order to become eligible to apply. Up to 10,000 refugees who escaped from communist-controlled territories and reached Turkey, Sweden, or Iran were also eligible to apply.
Implementation of the Law
Unlike the Displaced Persons Act of 1948, which directly addressed the problems of persons displaced by World War II, the Refugee relief Act of 1953 addressed cases of persons whose military service or political activities in the war were still causing them problems, as they ended up in Soviet-controlled territories as Cold War tensions between the United States and the Soviet Union were rising. For example, former soldiers in the Free Polish Forces were allotted 2,000 visas, and about 17,000 visas were allotted to Greeks due to problems stemming from the Greek civil war against communism that began after World War II. Another 5,000 visas were reserved for Chinese anticommunists. Jewish refugees still resident anywhere in Europe were granted a special allotment of2,000 nonquota visas to immigrate to the United States instead of Israel.
U. S. immigration officials worked with the Intergovernmental Committee for European Migration to standardize financial arrangements for transportation to the United States for applicants who had been approved for immigration and had proof of employment and housing awaiting them. Family members in the United States or immigrant assistance groups had to furnish evidence of support for sponsored immigrants. In order to help immigrant assistance groups in the United States, the act allowed the U. S. Department of the Treasury to lend these groups up to five million dollars to aid in resettlement costs. Indigent applicants were not eligible to apply. To be considered, applicants had to produce documentation to support their personal histories for at least two years prior to application. Anyone found guilty of misrepresentation of facts on the application was permanently denied consideration. Applicants already in the United States who falsified their applications were subject to immediate and permanent deportation.
In an effort to prohibit former Nazis and members ofcertain other groups from applying, anyone who advocated or participated in any form of racial or religious persecution was automatically and permanently denied consideration. Applicants with job skills in demand in the U. S. workforce were given priority consideration, as were those who had family members who were U. S. citizens and were willing to sponsor the applicant.
Bon Tempo, Carl J. Americans at the Gate: The United States and Refugees During the Cold War Princeton, N. J.: Princeton University Press, 2008. Examines the Refugee Relief Act of 1953 in terms of massive changes in immigration policies and law in the United States following World War II. Freedman, Jane. Gendering the International Asylum and Refugee Debate. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2007. Wide-ranging examination of the experiences of women refugees that focuses on differences between what male and female refugees go through.
LeMay, Michael, and Elliott Robert Barkan, eds.
U. S. Immigration and Naturalization Laws and Issues: A Documentary History. Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press, 1999. Collection of one hundred primary documents on immigration issues, with analyses.
Whittaker, David. Asylum Seekers and Refugees in the Contemporary World. New York: Routledge, 2006. Broad discussion ofissues arising from the growing numbers of refugees around the world.
See also: Displaced Persons Act of 1948; German immigrants; Immigration and Nationality Act of 1952; McCarran Internal Security Act of 1950; Quota systems; Refugee fatigue; Refugees; World War II.