17 May 2017

Migration as a Tool of US Foreign Policy in the Cold War

In the history of global migration, it was during the Cold War period (1947–1991) that immigration policy traditionally driven by domestic political interests – became increasingly influenced by, at times even kept hostage to the pressures of foreign policy. The Cold War immigration policies of the United States, the archetype of receiving countries, are cases in point. The crisis situations that developed in the Caribbean in the midst of the Cold War between 1959 and 1966 led to a series of catalytic events that triggered unprecedented volumes of people on the move. The Cuban Revolution of 1959 and the displacing effects of the consolidation of the Castro regime by 1966 were intertwined with the fall of the Trujillo regime in 1961 and the ensuing chaos that finally sparked the US invasion of the Dominican Republic in 1965–66. The Good Neighbour Policy was definitively pushed aside by the “no second Cuba in the Western Hemisphere” logic embodied in the Johnson Doctrine. The proximity of Cuba and the constant flow of refugees turned the US into a country of first asylum for the very first time in its immigration history. Simultaneously, the migration pressures building up in the neighbouring Dominican Republic threatened with contributing to a potential Castro-type revolution. In reacting to these crisis situations, US diplomacy came to use migration as an established tool of foreign policy during the Cold War.

The link between international migration and US foreign policy interests was hardly a new phenomenon. The foreign policy-driven migration agreements, such as the 1868 Burlingame Treaty with China, the 1907–1908 Gentlemen’s Agreement with Japan, and in particular the exemption of Western Hemisphere immigrants from the national origins quota system in the 1920s were clear indications of that.

Motivated by US foreign trade interests and by the demands of the labour market, the Burlingame–Seward Treaty of 1868 facilitated the immigration of Chinese labourers into the US, mostly for the railroad constructions in the West. Decades later, amidst growing anti-Asian feelings, the Gentlemen’s Agreement preserved developing bilateral relations with Japan. While the Japanese government strictly controlled the emigration of labourers, the US offered continued access to family unification for the Japanese already living in the US. Also, due to the foreign policy ideal of Pan-Americanism and low immigration from the Americas at the time, the Western Hemisphere, i.e. Canada and the countries of Latin America were exempted from the quota system as introduced in the 1920s. The national origins quota system of 1924 targeted immigration from the Eastern Hemisphere, and within that it favoured Northern and Western Europeans at the expense of Southern and Eastern Europeans, whose immigration was severely curtailed until 1965. Western Hemisphere immigration remained free until the 1965 overhaul of the entire US immigration system, which – amidst the foreign policy considerations of the Cold War – abolished the national origins based quota system for the Eastern Hemisphere in exchange for a hemispheric quota for the Americas (120,000 per year), necessitated by the marked growth of immigration from the region by that time. Since 1978 there has been a global ceiling, which currently is at 675,000 per year as specified by the Immigration Act of 1990.1

Yet, traditionally it was domestic interests that determined the policy outcome on immigration issues, and Congress typically overruled the foreign policy considerations put forward by the Executive. For instance, violent anti-Chinese riots in California led to the passage of the Chinese Exclusion Act in 1882. It was the first step leading towards the Asiatic Barred Zone of 1917, and finally to the Oriental Exclusion Act of 1924. The latter – despite strong objections from the Department of State – unilaterally abrogated the Gentlemen’s Agreement, which had a detrimental effect on the developing US–Japanese relations at that time and constituted one of the factors that indirectly contributed to the outbreak of hostilities in the Pacific by 1941.2 It was not until American involvement in the Second World War that lawmakers came to view immigration policy as a major tool for furthering the national interest and restrictionism somewhat loosened. The exclusion of Asian immigration started to break down amidst the war efforts of the early 1940s. China, for example, received a quota in 1943.3 Finally under the Immigration Act of 1952 (McCarran–Walter Act) Oriental exclusion was done away with. But even though the linkage between foreign and immigration policies was expanding gradually along with the new international leadership that the US took on amidst the Second World War, the incorporation of the national interest in overall immigration policy formulation did not take place until the 1965 Amendments to the Immigration Act of 1952. Those modifications finally abolished the national origins quota system, which had long been considered anachronistic and contrary to the national interest with its preference for Northern and Western European immigrants.

A special aspect of the 1965 Act was that for the first time a provision dealing with refugee admissions was included in the nation’s immigration laws. Prior to 1965, refugee admissions were dealt with on an ad hoc basis and approached as a short-term phenomenon that could be handled through temporary admission legislation and following the 1952 Immigration Act through the use of the administrative powers, i.e. parole authority of the Attorney General. The Displaced Persons Act of 1948, the Refugee Relief Act of 1953, and the massive parole of Hungarians within the frame of the Hungarian Refugee Programme of 1956–1957 were examples of the passage of temporary acts that were driven by Cold War foreign policy interests. The 1948 and 1953 acts were born out of the foreign political need of stabilising a devastated post-war Western Europe through reducing the refugee crisis by the admission of 620,000 displaced persons. The 1956–57 programme contributed to the anti-Communist foreign policy goal of condemning the Soviet system by accepting 38,000 Hungarian refugees.4 While the 1952 Immigration Act maintained the national origins quota system and did not contain provisions for refugee admissions, it gave discretionary parole power to the Attorney General to grant temporary admission to aliens “for emergency reasons or for reasons deemed strictly in the public interest”. The number of aliens to be admitted under this special provision was not specified, so the Executive could take action and bring in an unlimited number of aliens in line with Cold War policy interests; Congress could subsequently pass legislation that regularised the special executive action and also the status of such aliens, as in the case of the Hungarian Refugee Adjustment Act of 1958 (or later the Cuban Status Adjustment Act of 1966). These early acts thus can be considered as forerunners of the emerging correlation between foreign and immigration policies.

The Cold War struggle starting in Europe in the late 1940s and its spread to the Third World by the late 1950s and the 1960s were crucial in bringing about the intensification of the correlation between foreign and immigration policies and the treatment of the immigration field as an instrument of foreign policy implementation. With the deepening of the Cold War in the early 1950s, immigration policy was increasingly seen as a decisive instrument in the fight against Communism. The management of population movements was perceived as a potential weapon that could be used for strengthening allies and weakening adversaries. While the restrictionist Congress was moving slowly with the reform of immigration policy, the Executive was drawing attention to the necessity of recognising the foreign policy implications of immigration laws. The significance of the correlation between these two policy areas had been first formalised in 1953 as part of the report handed in by the Presidential Commission on Immigration and Naturalisation established by President Truman. Among other things, the Commission was given the Executive Order to consider “the effect of our immigration laws and their administration […] on the conduct of the foreign policies of the United States”. The findings of the Commission emphasised that “[o]ur whole national history illustrates a point which has only recently come to be recognized in its own light: American immigration policy and law must be formulated in awareness of their international impact and must be designed to advance our foreign policy.”5

The report went so far as to state explicitly that “our immigration law is part of our foreign policy”.6 Among the various testimonies the Commission listened to, that of Secretary of State Dean Acheson stressed the following:

Immigration, like most important facets of our national life in these times, is closely linked with our foreign policy and objectives. […] Our immigration policy with respect to particular national or racial groups, will inevitably be taken as an indication of our general attitude toward them, especially as an indication of our appraisal of their standing in the world. It will, therefore, shape their attitude toward us and toward many of our other policies.7


Officials dealing with American foreign relations expressed the view that US immigration policy should function as a flexible instrument of foreign policy and that “it should be made to serve and support the overall national policy on international relations”. The American foreign policy effort geared towards the containment of Communism saw immigration as a key instrument in furthering US objectives as the leader of the free world. Therefore the kind of immigration policy the US adopted was considered “a factor in the world struggle between democracy and totalitarianism”.8 Immigration policy and its implementation had acquired strategic importance that was meant to be taken advantage of in the arena of international politics defined by the Cold War.

In endeavoring to strengthen the economic and military defense of the free world […] we should recognize immigration policy as one of the elements in achieving economic and political stability as well as social equilibrium. [...] [O]ur immigration law, together with its enlightened administration, is a fundamental instrument in the conduct of our relations with other nations and […] must at all times, and particularly in times of international crisis, be geared to a dynamic, purposeful, and farsighted policy of world leadership.9


These views constituted a wholly new approach to immigration issues. US foreign policy as determined by anti-Communism had moved to exert major influence on legislative developments and the implementation of immigration policy in the field of both immigrant and refugee admissions, which were now made to serve the larger foreign policy goals of fighting the spread of Communism. The status of the applicants was decided on the basis of arbitrary criteria depending on the foreign political interests involved. The distinction between economic and political migrants came to be determined by whether they originated from non-Communist or Communist countries. As a result, on the one hand, immigrant admissions started to be considered as a way of strengthening friendly governments through liberal implementation and loose enforcement of the immigration laws. On the other hand, refugee admissions were used to undermine and discredit Communist countries since refugees escaping to the free world were claimed to be “voting with their feet”, and large-scale defection thus proved the bankruptcy of the Communist system.10 At the same time, countries that were supportive of the US were “virtually ignored as producers of ‘political’ refugees”.11

The foreign policy benefits accruing from refugee flows from Communism were substantial since refugees were seen as having special strategic and ideological value throughout the Cold War. Not surprisingly, refugee policy became thoroughly politicised and the humanitarian aspect of refugee admissions came to be subordinated to the national interest. Historically, this characteristic of refugee policy was not new, but the degree to which the politicisation of refugee flows was made use of in international dealings certainly constituted a new phenomenon of diplomacy. Despite the humanitarian rhetoric surrounding refugee admissions, the Cold War refugee policy of the US highlighted all too clearly that humanitarianism was inevitably partisan. As migration experts point out, “refugee policy is unavoidably political because it involves choices, and these can only be made according to political criteria”.12 This entails that difficult choices in refugee policy, as in other matters of moment, are weighed more by political concerns than by ethical and humanitarian standards. There are times when the two converge, […] but when moral sensibilities clash with national interests or domestic concerns, the former inevitably seem to suffer.”13 In fact, what makes someone a refugee is that he or she is acceptable to a politically powerful group elsewhere. The moral willingness to take in refugees then is constrained by what governments believe to be in their national interest. The classification of migrants from Communist countries as refugees served the foreign political objectives of the Cold War. The refugee label attached so readily to Cubans reinforced the concept that political migration originated from countries whose regimes opposed the US.

Though the Cuban wave of exiles appearing at the US borders as refugees from Communism was the first of its kind in the Western Hemisphere, it was not the first occasion that the US had placed refugees at the centre of a Cold War confrontation. The Hungarian refugee operation of 1956–1957 was clearly on the mind of the Eisenhower administration as a model to follow in the Cuban case.14

But even though both the Hungarian and Cuban refugees in this period enjoyed the sympathy and support of the US government and the American people, and both migrations were surrounded by anti-Communist and pro-United States rhetoric, there were some fundamental differences between the two refugee flows. Unlike the short-lived and controlled Hungarian refugee crisis, the Cuban exodus was unfolding right on the US borders with no screening process involved, and it became a permanent, more or less continuous and massive population movement bringing more than 885,000 refugees by the 1990s the majority of whom settled down in Florida, especially in Miami.15 The arrivals from neighbourly Cuba turned the US into a country of first asylum unprepared for an influx of such proportions and concentration.

The strategic and ideological value of this migration in US foreign policy calculations granted special legislation and treatment that induced further migration16 even during periods of prohibitive emigration policies in Cuba, a fact that underlines that the receiving country has ultimate responsibility in determining the volume of a migration flow. Because of American receptivity fuelled by Cold War considerations the Cuban migration potential was allowed to turn into reality. Thus superpower rivalry and the challenge it posed to US hegemony in the Caribbean, along with the use of immigration policy as a foreign policy tool aimed at the destabilisation of the Castro regime and the restoration of US positions of penetration in Cuba led to the onset of a massive migration flow. In sum, the correlation between foreign and immigration policies proves vital in explaining the onset and the dimension that the Cuban migration took.

The foreign policy benefits deriving from general immigrant flows were less conspicuous. But even though they lacked the explicit strategic and ideological value attributed to Cold War refugee flows, such admissions were not devoid of strategic considerations, and in fact often turned out to be guided by the pursuit of foreign policy objectives. This has been made possible by the fact that while immigration laws are enacted by Congress, their administration and enforcement are the responsibility of the Executive, which makes the insertion of foreign policy considerations into the migration process inevitable even when the immigration laws themselves are egalitarian. Though implementation has been distributed among four departments,17 the point of reference for them has always been the Department of State, whose foreign policy aims are determinant in instituting liberal immigration policies characterised by the granting of large numbers of immigrant and non-immigrant visas and the loose enforcement of immigration laws. Ever since the 1953 Presidential Commission on Immigration and Naturalisation pointed out the challenge that overpopulation and its consequences constituted for US allies in post-war Europe and underlined the relationship between stability, migration and US security,18 the use of liberal immigration policies in promoting the stability of friendly governments had been recognised. The emigration safety valve came to be seen as a way to reduce political, social, and economic tensions by providing a gateway to the politically disaffected and the economically dissatisfied, and by functioning as a channel of economic aid through emigrant remittances.19

The onset of mass migration from the Dominican Republic in the immediate neighbourhood of the US showed that the correlation between foreign and immigration policies embodied by the liberal consular policy and loose enforcement applied towards this flow not only dominated the migration process, but was a prerequisite for making it happen. The population flow from the Dominican Republic – that totalled about 810,000 by the 1990s20 – was not labelled a refugee movement despite its refugee-like characteristics at the outset in the 1961–1966 period. The foreign policy interests of the US in relation to a friendly government dictated that the flow remain within the framework of general immigration policy run through existing administrative channels with no need for special legislation. This method assured the depoliticised aspect of Dominican migration in cross-border relations, yet it reinforced the bilateral relations and strengthened the Dominican Republic’s allegiance to the US. In the Cold War context, political migration originated in hostile countries, while friendly regimes were rather seen to produce economic migrants. Nonetheless, Dominican mass migration did have the strategic value of functioning as a stabilising factor, and thus the use of immigration as a foreign policy tool contributed to the preservation of American positions of penetration in the Republic amidst the perceived Cold War challenges. Events in the Dominican Republic were decisive in the State Department’s opposition to the introduction of numerical limitation on Western Hemisphere immigration in 1965.21 Thus considering the correlation between US foreign and immigration policies is unavoidable if we are to account for the onset of Dominican migration and its dimensions.

However, the beginning of mass migration from Cuba and the Dominican Republic highlights some daunting contradictions. These two massive population movements began at the same time due to political crises in the home countries and the concomitant correlation between US foreign and immigration policy responses that the crises produced. In the case of Cuba, the active periods of decision-making involving this correlation between the two policy areas were in 1959–1962 and 1965–1966. As for the Dominican Republic, the same active period embraced the years 1962–1963 and 1965–1966. That is, US foreign political and immigration decisions were running parallel to each other in the two countries. Both mass migrations were the result of political upheaval with thousands displaced by and/or escaping the chaotic transitory periods, and were also influenced by the historical American penetration of their systems. But the two flows came to be regarded differently depending on how they served best US foreign policy objectives. By 1966, both flows had become established, but in terms of different migration categories: one as that of refugees through special legislative procedures, and the other as that of economic or labour migrants through administrative channels. Their distinct classification reflected the hostility or the alliance between their respective governments and the US. While the relationship of the US with the Cuban revolution was characterised by political hostility, economic denial through the embargo and political migration, the Dominican crisis was rather viewed in the US through a prism of political alliance, economic aid and labour migration.22

The US applied the same migration-accepting policy towards both flows. This migration-acceptance, however, was put in service of entirely dissimilar foreign policy aims. While the promotion of Cuban emigration was aimed at destabilising and discrediting the Castro regime, the facilitation of Dominican emigration was meant to bolster stability and consolidate the new government. In Cuba, the US encouraged the emigration of the disaffected and the dissatisfied first in order to overthrow Castro, then to deprive the regime from vital human resources and thus destabilise it, and most importantly to discredit it internationally by pointing to the massive flight of people to the free world as evidence of the failure of the Communist regime. In the Dominican Republic, the US assisted the deportation of political opponents in order to stabilise the political situation, and expedited the visa-granting process for both immigrants and non-immigrants in order to prevent social tensions from feeding on the high rate of unemployment and to provide additional economic aid to the country through migrants’ remittances. The paradoxical claim that the pro-immigration policy could simultaneously weaken hostile regimes and strengthen friendly ones pervaded the Cold War period. The doubts regarding the effectiveness of encouraging refugee flows in order to achieve the destabilisation of adversaries were pushed aside and policy-makers held strongly to the view that the admission of refugees was of strategic importance in the fight against Communism. It took the end of the Cold War to acknowledge that “as a political safety valve and economic crutch, the US cold war policy of encouraging refugee flows from ‘enemy’ states may have done more to stabilize than to destabilize unfriendly regimes”.23 Policy-makers, however, were little aware of the dynamics of international migration in the 1950s and 1960s, and despite the contradictions involved in the long-term application of the same pro-migration policy to achieve disparate foreign political objectives, US refugee policy basically became frozen in the anti-Communist rhetoric of the Cold War.

It was the crisis situation involving the US–Cuba–Dominican Republic triangle of the 1959–1966 period that first turned migration into an instrument of foreign policy implementation in the Western Hemisphere, and established this new tool of diplomacy as part of the Latin America policy of the US. Events in Cuba and the Dominican Republic and the American reactions to them demonstrated that for the first time migration issues had become explicitly intertwined with the restoration and preservation of American positions of penetration. The correlation between foreign and immigration interests led to a policy of receptivity opening wide the immigration gate to the refugees, legal and illegal immigrants coming from these countries. Thus it was this correlation that made it possible for the existing migration pressures in both Cuba and the Dominican Republic to turn into reality and to take on massive characteristics. The application of this new foreign policy tool was partly conscious and partly the result of crisis management, which nonetheless did not take into consideration the long-term consequences of these migrations. These population movements were assessed on the basis of how they served best the aims of the US at the time of Cold War superpower rivalry. The contradictions involved in applying the same pro-immigration policy to both countries with entirely different foreign policy aims underscore not only the dominant role that the correlation between foreign and immigration policies was playing at the stage of the onset of these flows, but also point to the limited knowledge policy-makers had on the dynamics of international migration at the time.

Today we know that once a migration flow has been set in motion, it is there to stay. Once it is established, it generates its own flow and through the development of transnational communities it becomes perpetuated. What is more, this law of migration is enforced further by geographical proximity. By the end of the Cold War, the destabilising effect of emigration had also been reconsidered by the US government. Since if the emigration of political opponents and economic malcontents had a stabilising effect on allies, it could only be expected to lead to the stabilisation of hostile regimes too. Once the Cold War was over, the inherent contradictions in the application of the same pro-migration policy to achieve dissimilar foreign policy aims had been exposed, and the conclusion derived was that the lack of exit opportunities, or the limited access to them, was more conducive to political change than the keeping of the emigration safety valve open. In relation to Cuba, in the mid-1990s experts already indicated that the continued operation of the emigration safety valve was contrary to the American aims of achieving a democratic transition in Cuba, and among US policy options there appeared the suggestion to sharply curtail both legal and illegal immigration from Cuba in order to exacerbate tensions that would ultimately speed up the transition process.24 This policy option, however, has not been resorted to by any administration to date. The Cuban and Dominican flows – that continue unabated to date irrespective of the original Cold War foreign policy considerations that triggered them – offer excellent illustrations of both the perpetuation of migration and its stabilising effects on the sending countries.

Yet the correlation between foreign and immigration policies dominating the formation and development of Cuban and Dominican migration draws attention to an additional aspect of the process, namely, to the responsibility of the receiving country. Since historical cross-country relations and foreign policy interests that feed on them determine the way immigration laws are implemented, the consequences of these foreign policy-motivated immigration decisions boomerang back on the US. What I term the boomerang effect aspect of migration underlies that through the correlation between foreign and immigration policies, the receiving country has ultimate responsibility in turning the potential of massive population movements into reality and in determining the dimensions such flows can take. This decisive aspect of international migration is usually overshadowed by the fact that researchers making this point attribute the same responsibility to sending and receiving countries. With respect to Dominican migration, Torres-Saillant and Hernández say the following:


The movement of a large human contingent involves the power structures of both the sending and the receiving societies. These may or may not effectively safeguard their respective borders. Depending on the specificities of the political moment, they may implement measures that seek either to curtail or to foment a migratory flow. Irrespective of what exactly may have activated the movement in question, or whether or not the home and the host countries have been completely aware of all its implications, it is unlikely that the mobility of people across national borders could develop without the consent, either formal or informal of the gatekeepers of both societies.25

And in relation to Cuban migration Robert Bach emphasises:


The difference [between labeling people political or labor migrants] lies in how similar problems of both an economic and political nature get interpreted by the two principal actors in any migration flow, the sending and receiving states. [The question we should always ask is] why each state has labeled them labor migrants or refugees.26


The shortcoming of this approach, however, is that by attributing equal roles to sending and receiving countries it overlooks one of the most basic aspects of the migration process. Sending and receiving states are rarely of equal standing and their interests in the migration process seldom coincide. The boomerang effect approach underscores this fundamental characteristic of population movements by assessing the predominant role of the receiving country in the formation and development of migration flows. As a rule, receiving countries are better off in the field of political and economic stability, labour opportunities and wages, and are less dependent on immigration than the sending country on emigration. The interests of the host country usually fluctuate along the economic booms and busts with worries about illegal immigration peaking at times of economic recession. Sending countries, on the other hand, are usually more interested in maintaining the emigration safety valve as a way of promoting their internal stability and as a source of foreign exchange, an interest that is especially acute in times of economic recession.

The inequality of home and host countries is further enhanced by the way international law treats emigration and immigration. Contrary to the idea of free trade and the free flow of capital in our globalised world, the cross-border movement of people is not free. International law in general and the UN Declaration of Human Rights in particular do stipulate that it is the right of every citizen to leave their country and to look for asylum.27 The right of entry into another country, however, is not granted in a similar fashion since it is the discretionary right of every sovereign state to decide whom they welcome and whom they refuse. That is, while international law does stipulate the right of exit and therefore a state can be condemned internationally for not allowing its citizens to leave, the right of entry is not stipulated similarly. Therefore without questioning the validity of the statement that the prevailing political and economic conditions and the exit rules in the sending country are important factors in the migration process, I contend that the receiving country bears not only a greater share of the responsibility for making it possible for mass migrations to happen, but also has greater opportunity to shape the migration process as a result of the inherent inequality between sending and receiving countries.

Both the case of Cuba and of the Dominican Republic show that on the whole the sending country’s possibilities in shaping the migration outcome were more limited than those of the receiving country. At the time of the onset of these flows, both countries exercised permissive exit rules, yet without the receptivity that the US granted to them, and even more importantly, in the absence of special measures taken by the US to facilitate the influx, these migrations could not have acquired the dimensions that by the end of the Cold War had turned them into the second and third largest immigrant source countries from Latin America with significant transnational communities in the US. In the case of Cuba, even when the Castro regime instituted prohibitive exit rules as in 1962–1965 and 1973–1980, or selective exit rules as in 1965–1973, the American receptivity granted to legal and illegal immigrants labelled as refugees throughout the Cold War proved a decisive incentive of migration. This incentive was instrumental in assuring the building up of migration pressures within Cuba, and it made the regime open up the borders time and again as in 1965, 1980, and 1994. Though the aim of these incidents was to turn the migration weapon against the US, while the embarrassment caused to the US government proved temporary, the opening of the borders after periods of restrictive exit rules showed the regime’s dependence on the emigration safety valve as a stabilising factor. Once the Cold War had ended and the foreign political value of this flow had declined substantially, Cuba tried to embarrass the US in vain by generating a new wave of migrants in 1994. The policy of receptivity had become limited to a migration agreement on the basis of the quota system and strict enforcement against illegal arrivals at the borders meant that the US government made access to the emigration safety valve dependent on no more repetitions of the 1994 migration crisis. Even in the absence of automatic parole, however, the newly established “wet feet” versus dry feet” policy reflected the special treatment of Cuban migration that continued until outgoing President Obama abruptly announced the end of that policy on 12 January 2017, in line with the normalisation of bilateral relations. From 1994 until recently, this policy meant that Cubans who managed to reach US shores or cross US borders unnoticed were allowed to stay.28 The case of Cuban immigration also points to the dominant role of the receiving country in the labelling process. A sending country may claim that its emigrants are economic migrants – as Cuba did from 1965 onwards – if the receiving country keeps admitting them as refugees. On the international scene, Cuban migrants were not considered economic migrants until the US also termed them as such in 1995, a fact that again underlines the greater opportunity of the receiving country in shaping the migration outcome.

In the case of the Dominican Republic, the 1961 expedition of the visa-granting process to immigrants and especially to non-immigrants was clear indication of the fact that it was not so much the existing migration pressures and the permissive exit rules, as the liberal US consular policies facilitating emigration and lax enforcement against visa-overstayers and illegals that made Dominican mass migration possible. When the migration connection became strained in the mid-1980s because of growing concerns over illegal immigration in the nation at large, the Dominican government’s initiatives on continued access to the emigration safety valve went unanswered. Though the US continued with its policy of let-it-flow, the case illustrated the fact that the sending country might negotiate for unchanged or greater access to the migration connection if the interests of the receiving country dictate it otherwise.29 The ultimate decision regarding the classification of the immigrants as refugees or economic migrants, the strict or loose enforcement of current immigration laws, and the negotiation of migration agreements is primarily in the hands of the receiving country. If there is limited receptivity and strict enforcement, migration is more likely to be kept under control than in the absence of these aspects. Given the inequalities between home and host countries and the stakes that home countries have in keeping migration flowing, however, unless they are made interested in or are persuaded into controlling emigration, their efforts in migration controls are going to be conditioned by the emphasis that the receiving country puts on strict or loose enforcement.

The impact that foreign and immigration policies have on the formation and development of massive population movements is crucial, yet it continues to constitute one of the least researched aspects of international migration. Traditional push and pull factors cannot explain the cross-national variation in migration, or the differences in the timing, volume and pattern of particular flows. The process of international migration can be understood in its entirety only if it is studied as an issue subordinated to foreign policy interests. That approach can also account for a basic tenet of admission policies, namely that “[t]he warmth of our welcome to the huddled masses relates closely to our own interests”.30 The role of foreign policy interests in setting immigration policy turned more decisive than ever in the Cold War period. Migration as a tool of foreign policy, however, has been used ever since, and amidst the current phase – or crisis – of global migration, the regularities of migration described above may also hold important lessons for contemporary migration experts and policy-makers.


(The present article draws on Éva Eszter Szabó, US Foreign and Immigration Policies in the Caribbean Basin, Szombathely: Savaria University Press, 2007.)




1 Roger Daniels, Coming to America: A History of Immigration and Ethnicity in American Life, Harper Perennial, 1990, New York, Chapters 10–11; Muzaffar Chishti, and Steven Yale-Loehr, “The Immigration Act of 1990: Unfinished Business a Quarter-Century Later”, Migration Policy Institute, July 2016, 3. Online.

2 Michel J. Churgin, “Mass Exoduses: The Response of the United States”, International Migration Review, XXX/1, 1996, 311–312; Nathan Glazer, “New Rules of the Game,” in Robert W. Tucker, Charles B. Keely and Linda Wrigley, eds., Immigration and US Foreign Policy, Boulder: Westview Press, 1990, 20–21.

3 Reed Ueda, Post-War Immigrant America. A Social History, New York: Bedford Books of St. Martin’s Press, 1994, 42–44.

4 Daniels, 330–331, 335–336.

5 President’s Commission on Immigration and Naturalisation, Whom We Shall Welcome, Washington, DC: Government Printing Office, 1953, 45, 46. (Emphasis in bold in the original.)

6 Ibid., 47.

7 Ibid.

8 Ibid., 48, 47.

9 Ibid., 47.

10 On these aspects see Norman L. Zucker and Naomi F. Zucker, Desperate Crossings: Seeking Refuge in America, Armonk: M. E. Sharpe, 1996, 5, 26, 28, 189. Term quoted ibid., 28.

11 Robert L. Bach, “The Cuban Exodus: Political and Economic Motivations”, in Barry B. Levine, ed., The Caribbean Exodus, New York: Praeger, 1987, 110.

12 Aristide R. Zolberg, “The Roots of Refugee Policy”, in Tucker, Keely and Wrigley, eds., 100.

13 Zucker and Zucker, 189.

14 Félix Roberto Masud-Piloto, From Welcomed Exiles to Illegal Immigrants. Cuban Migration to the United States, 1959–1995, Totowa: Rowman & Littlefield, 1995, 35–38. (The comparison of the Hungarian and Cuban refugee programmes is the subject of my ongoing research project entitled “Budapest, Havana and Washington: The Strategic Value of Refugee Programmes in the Cold War”.)

15 US Department of Homeland Security, 2014 Yearbook of Immigration Statistics. Table 2. Persons Obtaining Legal Resident Status by Region and Selected Country of Last Residence, Fiscal Years 1820–2014. Online. (Between the 1950s and 2014, a total of 1,324,227 Cubans entered the US.) As of the 1990s, 64.6% of Cuban Americans resided in Florida and they constituted 56% of Miami’s population. Miguel González-Pando, The Cuban Americans, Westport: Greenwood Press, 1998, 166.

16 In fact, well-established refugee programmes themselves can function as inducements to further migration. See Astri Suhrke, “Global Refugee Movements and Strategies of Response”, in Mary M. Kritz, ed., US Immigration and Refugee Policy, New York: D. C. Heath and Company, 1984, 164–166.

17 These are the Department of Justice, Department of Labour, Department of Health and Human Services, and Department of State. (and since 2003 the Department of Homeland Security)

18 President’s Commission on Immigration and Naturalisation, 65.

19 Sergio Díaz-Briquets, “Relationships Between US Foreign Policies and US Immigration Policies”, in Michael S. Teitelbaum and Myron Weiner, eds., Threatened Peoples, Threatened Borders. World Migration and US Policy, New York: W. W. Norton & Company, 1995, 183.

20 2014 Yearbook of Immigration Statistics. Table 2. Online. (Between the 1960s and 2014, a total of 1,339,347 Dominicans entered the US.)

21 The introduction of Western Hemisphere quotas was finally approved by the Executive in exchange for the abolishment of the national origins quota system.

22 Robert L. Bach, “Immigration and US Foreign Policy in Latin America and the Caribbean”, in Tucker, Keely and Wrigley, eds., 146.

23 Kathleen Newland, “The Impact of US Refugee Policies on US Foreign Policy: A Case of the Tail Wagging the Dog?”, in Teitelbaum and Weiner, eds., 191.

24 Edward Gonzalez, “Cuba Adrift in a Post-Communist World”, in Irving L. Horowitz, ed., Cuban Communism 1959–1995, New Brunswick: Transaction Publishers, 1995, 745. Also, Myron Weiner points out that the lack of exit opportunities in Eastern Europe led to regime change by the late 1980s. See The Global Migration Crisis. Challenge to States and to Human Rights, New York: HarperCollins College Publishers, 1995, 210–211.

25 The Dominican Americans, Westport: Greenwood Press, 1998, 36–37.

26 “The Cuban Exodus: Political and Economic Motivations”, in Levine, ed., 110.

27 See article No. 13 and 14 of the “Universal Declaration of Human Rights” (1948), Human Rights. A Compilation of International Instruments, Vol. 1, Universal Instruments, New York: United Nations, 1994, 3–4; and Weiner, 171.

28 Jorge I. Domínguez, “Cooperating with the Enemy? US Immigration Policies toward Cuba”, in Mitchell, ed., 47–52, 64–66, 80–84. On recent trends since the normalisation of bilateral relations announced in 2014, see Jens Manuel Krogstad, “Surge in Cuban Immigration to the US Continues into 2016”, Pew Research Centre, 5 August 2016. Online; Amy Sherman, “Is Trump’s Immigration Ban Comparable to Obama’s Cuba Rule Change?” PolitiFact Florida, 31 January 2017. Online.

29 Christopher Mitchell, “US Foreign Policy and Dominican Migration to the United States”, in Mitchell, ed., 113, 117–123; Torres-Saillant and Hernández, 152–156.

30 Victor H. Palmieri, “Foreword”, in Kritz, ed., xi.

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It is an affiliate of the bi-monthly journal Magyar Szemle, published since 1991
Publisher: Gyula Kodolányi
Editor-in-Chief: Gyula Kodolányi
Editorial Manager: Ildikó Geiger
Editorial office: Budapest, 1067, Eötvös u. 24., HUNGARY
E-mail: hungarianreview@hungarianreview.com
Online edition: www.hungarianreview.com

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