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“The Cold War impact on U.S. Immigration policy towards Latin Americans” Alba Hesselroth Yale-Georgetown 2009 Summer Institute “Latin America and the Cold War” New Haven, July 10 2009 Issues and time frames to be taken into consideration

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the cold war impact on u s immigration policy towards latin americans

“The Cold War impact on U.S. Immigration policy towards Latin Americans”

Alba Hesselroth

Yale-Georgetown 2009 Summer Institute “Latin America and the Cold War”

New Haven, July 10 2009

1980 education rate of graduation among hispanic women 25 years and over
1980: Education/ rate of graduation among Hispanic women 25 years and over
  • One third of Mexicans and Puerto Ricans had graduated from high school in 1980.
  • Cuban women surpassed their other Hispanic counterparts with a 53 % graduation rate in 1980.
april 2007 unemployment rate source us bureau labor statistics
April 2007: Unemployment rateSource: US Bureau Labor Statistics
  • The U.S. Hispanic unemployment rate jumped to 6.9% in April from 5.5% .
  • Cubans had the lowest unemployment rate which is comparable to general rates of unemployment of the total civilian labor force.
median household income in the usa source http pewhispanic org files factsheets 23 pdf
Median household income in the USA Source:
median household income in the usa comparison between native born cubans and white non hispanic
Median household income in the USAComparison between native-born Cubans and White non-hispanic
Poverty rates among Hispanic people. Poverty rates for Cubans are generally lower than for other Hispanics

National IndicatorsSource: U.S. Census Bureau, Current Population Survey, March2004, Ethnic and Hispanic Statistics Branch, Population Division

  • 41% of Latino households make $25,000 or less compared to 19% of Whites.
  • Excluding from these data the Cuban households in Miami (a much more affluent community) the percentage of Latino households making $25,000 or less increases almost to 50%.
cubans in the usa source http pewhispanic org files factsheets 23 pdf
Cubans in the USASource:
  • Compared with the rest of the Hispanic population in the United States, Cubans:

- have a higher level of education

- higher median household income

- higher rate of home ownership.

cubans in the usa source http pewhispanic org files factsheets 23 pdf20
Cubans in the USASource:
  • With respect to other Hispanics:

As a group Cubans in the USA are distinct in many ways from the rest of the Hispanic population.

  • Within the “Cuban” category:

There are important differences among Cubans, particularly between those who arrived before 1980 and those who arrived in subsequent years.


Puzzles: - Why do cubans in the USA have a better economic position compared to other hispanic groups? - Why do significant differences exist between cubans that arrived before 1980s and those that arrived later?

prior to the cuban revolution fidel castro regime cold war significant cuban migrations
Prior to the Cuban Revolution – Fidel Castro regime/Cold WarSignificant Cuban Migrations
  • 1890s during the War of Independence (Spanish American War)
  • 1930s during the Machado Government (Menocal and Prio Supporters)
  • 1950s during the Batista Government (Castro and Prio supporters)
1959: Cuban Revolution, turning pointFrom then onwards: 4 important migration waves during the Castro government
  • 1959- After the Castro revolution
  • 1965-1973   Freedom Flights
  • 1980   Mariel Boatlif
  • 1989 Ongoing migration
u s policy towards cubans after 1959
U.S. policy towards Cubans after 1959
  • Throughout all four phases, U.S. policy has been far more welcoming towards Cubans than to any other migrants from Latin America.
  • Virtually all Cuban migrants have been admitted under a special parole power exercised by the U.S. Attorney General that immediately grants them full legal status and puts them on a path to U.S. citizenship.
  • Currently, Cuban migrants apprehended at sea are returned to Cuba while those who are able to reach U.S. soil are allowed to stay.
1959 immediately after the castro revolution28
1959- Immediately after the Castro revolution -

Elite emigration: supporters of Batista and wealthy people (white and highly educated).

1959 after the castro revolution
1959- After the Castro revolution
  • 1959: number of Cubans in the USA: 124,000
  • After 1959: initial exodus, primarily wealthy Cubans
  • Also upper-middle class families.
  • During the early years of the revolutionary period, about 215,000 Cubans immigrated to the U.S.
  • 31% of Cubans that migrated to the U.S. were professional or managers.
march 1960 eisenhower government invokes the mutual security act
March 1960: Eisenhower government invokes the Mutual Security Act
  • Tremendous impact:

- Recognition of Cuba as a communist state

- Cubans are thus recognized as “Exiles”

kennedy administration assertive role in refugee relief efforts
Kennedy Administration: assertive role in refugee relief efforts
  • 1966: Establishment of the “Cuban Refugee Program” (CRP)
  • First time after World War II that the government gave monetary assistance for refugee resettlement which included:

- monthly relief checks

- health services

- job training

- adult educational opportunities – English classes, Professional certification

- Partial funding to Dade County Public Schools System to help to accommodate more than 3,500 Cuban refugee children in 1961

operacion pedro pan peter pan operation the cuban children s exodus
“Operacion Pedro Pan” Peter Pan Operation. The Cuban children’s exodus

December 1960 - October 1962, more than 14,000 Cuban youths arrived alone in the US. It was the largest recorded exodus of unaccompanied minors in the Western Hemisphere

april 1965 september 1966 freedom flights
April 1965-September 1966:   Freedom Flights
  • 1965: Camarioca port => State Department Sealift
  • Orderly departure programs administered by the U.S and Cuban governments. Bilateral arrangement.
  • Preference: familiar unification
  • Twice flights per day, 3,000 to 4,000 Cubans each month
  • Total: 3,048 flights that carried 297, 318 refugees to the US
  • Emigration restrictions imposed by Cuba on certain types of skilled labor and men of military age
freedom flights
   Freedom Flights
  • More mixed population emigrated from Cuba to the USA (middle class, working class people).
  • By 1970: 12% professionals or managers, 57% blue collar, service, or agricultural workers, from different parts of Cuba.
  • Women overrepresented.
  • Blacks underrepresented.
late 1970s
Late 1970s
  • By mid-1970s: US Cuban Refugee Program had spent over US$957 million in resettlement, relief, and other services.
  • Clandestine emigration
  • 1972: reunification, 50,000 Cubans from Spain
  • By September 1977, total number of Cubans that arrived to the US since January 1959: 665,043
impact of cold war on latino political mobilization and community organizing in the usa
Impact of Cold War on Latino Political Mobilization and Community Organizing in the USA
  • 1960s:

- In California, Chicanas actively participated in the UFW, while East Los Angeles Latina activists worked for social change, Puerto Ricans for defense of civil rights.

- Cuban women also organized: Hijas del Pueblo in New Orleans and the Junta Patriotica de Damas de Nueva York.

- Later: Union de Mujeres, the Cruzada Femenina Cubana, Movimiento Femenino Anticomunista de Cuba, Organizacion de Damas Anticomunistas Cubanas (Perez, 1986: 126-37)

precedent late 1970s events
Precedent: late 1970s events
  • 1970s: Thawing in tensions Cuba - USA.
  • 1977: diplomatic relations w/ creation of “interest sections” in Washington and Havana. Cultural exchanges followed.
  • 1978: over 100,000 Cuban exiles were allowed to visit families and friends in Cuba.
  • 1979: The Castro government released over 4,000 political prisoners and allowed them to emigrate.
precedent late 1970s events41
Precedent: late 1970s events
  • The “blue jean revolution”

- Contact between Cubans in the homeland and exiles and Americans in the US had a boomerang effect.

- Many Cubans’ basic beliefs about their society and about life in the US were challenged.

- Discontent increased and attempts to leave the island too.

-1979-1980: 30 Cubans smuggled themselves in Latin American embassies seeking asylum

the peruvian incident
The Peruvian incident
  • April 4, 1980: 10,800 Cubans moved into the grounds of the Peruvian Embassy in Havana, after the Cuban Government guards were removed from the Peruvian Embassy. 
the peruvian embassy incident
The Peruvian embassy incident


two important outcomes
Two important outcomes:
  • Air lift from third countries: Cubans arriving in San Jose, Costa Rica, and Madrid, Spain, shared with the world media the horrors lived while at the Embassy.  This exposure generated a negative opinion for the aging Cuban Revolution.
  • The Mariel migration began: Fidel Castro announced the opening of the Port of Mariel and invited Cubans in America to come to pick-up their relatives from the Cuba. 
the mariel exodus a chaotic highly controversial distinct migration
The Mariel exodus: a chaotic, highly controversial, distinct migration
  • Unilateral.
  • Human avalanche, unprecedented numbers and composition:

- During May: 88,817 Cubans left Cuba, 14,000 per week. - As of Sept. 1980: 125,000 Cubans came to the USA.

- The Marielitos, came from virtually every segment of Cuban society, including the poor. Many were black.

- Individuals released from jails and mental institutions by became part of the human flow that migrated to the US. 

  • US national perceptions of the Cuban exile community were forever altered.
the mariel migration impact in cuba
The Mariel migration. Impact in Cuba
  • Those that wanted to migrate were harassed by the Cuban government.
  • The Mariel exodus alleviated serious internal administrative and economic problems. Cuba exported a high risk population to the U.S. 
impact on the usa
Impact on the USA
  • President Carter stated:  "We will continue to provide an open heart and open arms to refugees seeking freedom from Communist domination." 
  • Hundreds of people continued arriving in Key West and other parts of Florida.  FEMA opened four refugee camps in Florida, Arkansas, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin
  • opened four refugee camps in Florida, Arkansas, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin
marielos in the usa
“Marielos” in the USA
  • Ethnic relations deteriorated in the wake of the boatlift:

- Marielos (mainly “Black” and poor) were discriminated by other Cubans.

- Anti-Cuban sentiment: African Americans rioted, voters repealed Bilingual-Bicultural Ordinance.

  • Mainstream US press exaggerated on the “Crime bomb” by Fidel Castro.
  • The increase of criminal activity (in Florida) was often blamed on the Mariel refugees. 
marielos in the usa49
“Marielos” in the USA
  • As of December 26, 1981, of 163 Cubans charged an/or convicted felons housed in Dade County's main jail:

- 103 or 63.9% are Mariel refugees

- 11 or 6.8% are Cuban ex- political prisoners

- 47 or 29.1% are Cuban-Americans.  (Unzueta)

marielos in the usa50
“Marielos” in the USA
  • Legally, the individuals coming in the Mariel Flotilla were granted the new administrative category of "entrant". 
  • This technicality rendered them ineligible for assistance available through the U.S. Refugee Act of 1980. 
  • The Fascell - Stone Amendment to the Refugee Act of 1980: special funding was authorized, in the form of cash assistance, reached the entrants during the latter part of February 1981.

two important turning points
Two important turning points
  • 1980s: Ronald Reagan elected President, the Cold War got “colder”
  • 1989-1990: End of the Cold War
1980s the cold war gets colder
1980s: The Cold War gets colder
  • 1984:  United States allowed immigration of up to 20,000 Cubans annually. However, this was interrupted due to the installation of “Radio Marti” by the Reagan administration.
  • Hard foreign policy by the Reagan administration, especially regarding the Soviet Union. Soviet economy collapsed.
1990s the cold war is over cubans situation in the island worsens
1990s, the Cold War is over. Cubans’ situation in the island worsens
  • After trade and special perks between Cuba and the Soviet Union were suspended, Cuba was put into a dismal economic situation.
  • The Cuban government instilled a rationing system to deal with food, electricity, and gasoline shortages. The discontent continued to grow among many Cubans who desired economic and political freedom.
1994 rafter exodus
1994:   Rafter Exodus
  • 1994: Huge wave of immigrants from Cuba.

Approximately 33,000 Cubans fled to the U.S.

  • Due to the large wave of Cubans entering the country, the US made an agreement in September 1994 that would limit the number of incoming Cubans to 20,000 annually.
legacies of the cold war era60
Legacies of the Cold War era
  • U.S. economic sanctions on Cuba still in force.
  • In 1992, Pres. Bush signed the Cuban Democracy Act, which tightened the embargo against Cuba.
  • In 1996, Pres. Clinton signed the Cuban Liberty and Democratic Solidarity Act, which imposed penalties on companies doing business in Cuba. (Helms Burton Bill that imposed additional sanctions on Cuba).
  • Fidel Castro remained in power for almost 50 years
central americans migration to the usa

Central Americans’ Migration to the USA

Nicaragua, El Salvador, Guatemala,

A tale of three migrations…, and a tale of three different decades…

aspects to be taken into consideration
Aspects to be taken into consideration
  • The significance of the implosion of the underdeveloped world into the developed world. (David Gutierrez)
  • “ When [immigrants] enter the bottom of the ethnic hierarchy of drastic social inequality, the forces of assimilation come mainly from the [existing] underprivileged segment of this structure, and this is likely to result in distinct disadvantages…” (Min Zhou “Segmented Assimilation: Issues, Controversies, and Recent Research on the New Second Generation,” International Migration Review 1977:999)
significant waves of legal and illegal immigration to the united states
Significant waves of legal and illegal immigration to the United States
  • 1980s: “Exodus to the U.S.” due to civil wars in Nicaragua, El Salvador, and Guatemala, combined with already weak economies.
  • 1990s: Economic issues
  • 1998-2000s: Natural disasters

Hurricane Mitch in 1998,

two earthquakes in El Salvador in 2001,

Hurricane Stan in 2005.

central american migration65
Central American Migration

1980s Guatemalan Indigenous


Men have outnumbered women’s migration

Migration Flows from Guatemala,1960s through 2005Source: International Organization for Migration, Guatemala
cold war mentality shaped latin american immigration to the u s
Cold War mentality shaped Latin American immigration to the U.S.
  • Citizens of countries who were not fleeing communist regimes tried unsuccessfully to win refugee status.
  • After the 1973 revolt against the socialist government of Chile: the United States took in fewer than 1,700 Chilean refugees.
  • The U.S. government also denied asylum to most of the Haitian boat people during the 1970s and deported them.
1980s some changes but still cold war fever
1980s, some changes but still “Cold War fever”
  • Prior to 1980, the U.S. limited its recognition of refugees to those fleeing from communist governments.
  • 1980: Pres. Carter signed “ The Refugee Act of 1980” that established the definitions of asylum and refugee status in line with those of the UN: as those fleeing their country from political oppression.
  • The Cold War mentality still strongly influenced public recognition of civil war and political oppression around the world.
1980s central american emigration to the u s a tale of three countries
1980s: Central American emigration to the U.S., a tale of three countries…
  • Guatemala and El Salvador lived under right-wing and dictatorial governments recognized and supported by the United States and were plagued by civil wars .
  • Under Cold War mentality the U.S. was supporting the Salvadoran and Guatemalan governments from “Marxist insurgency”.
  • For the U.S. government the Sandinistas government was undemocratic and Nicaraguans asking for asylum were fleeing “communist oppression.”
huge bias coherence as part of incoherence
Huge bias: coherence as part of incoherence
  • Decisions on asylum applications from Guatemala and El Salvador were rejected by the Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS)
  • For the INS they were economic migrants and not legitimate refugees fearing persecution. The fear of being killed in a civil war was not sufficient for winning refugee status.
  • Hence, few managed to emigrate as refugees. Many stayed in the U.S. as “illegals” threatened by deportation.
huge bias coherence as part of incoherence71
Huge bias: coherence as part of incoherence
  • Under Reagan the CIA-backed contras were trying to overthrow the Sandinista government.
  • Nicaraguans fleeing to the U.S. were granted asylum. Their approval rate was more than double that of their neighbors.
  • In 1989: 5,092 Nicaraguans won asylum, compared with 102 Guatemalans and 443 Salvadorans.
understanding some changes
Understanding (some) changes…
  • What is a “Sanctuary”?
  • What is ABC?
  • Unprecedented numbers of Americans became involved through their churches and synagogues, which proclaimed themselves "sanctuaries."
legal efforts low intensity struggle
Legal efforts: low intensity struggle
  • Bar association efforts to provide pro bono representation to Salvadorans and Guatemalans.
  • Throughout the decade, hundreds of individual immigration hearings
  • Lawyers for asylum applicants and INS lawyers waged a low-intensity struggle over the nature of the conflict in Central America and the rights of individual Central Americans to asylum status.
  • In 1985 the American Baptist Church (ABC) filed a class-action suit against the INS, on behalf of Guatemalan and Salvadoran nationals in the U.S. who had been denied asylum.
  • “American Baptist Church v. Thornburgh” alleged that the U.S. government had engaged in discriminatory treatment of asylum claims made by Guatemalans and Salvadorans.
outcomes in favor of nicaraguans
Outcomes in favor of Nicaraguans
  • 1987: the Reagan Administration recognized the Sandinista revolution in Nicaragua by establishing the Nicaraguan Review Program (NRP) to give Nicaraguans who had been denied asylum a second review.
outcomes in favor of guatemalans and salvadorans
Outcomes in favor of Guatemalans and Salvadorans
  • 1991: the US government and attorneys settled the American Baptist Churches (ABC) v. Thornburgh class-action suit.
  • As a result, Guatemalans and Salvadorans physically present in the US before October 1, 1990 and September 19, 1990, respectively, were granted a new interview and asylum decision, irrespective of any prior decisions on the asylum claim.
1990s developments shaping immigration from central america still cold war mentality
1990s: Developments Shaping Immigration from Central America . Still “Cold War” mentality.
  • 1997: U.S. Congress passed the Nicaraguan Adjustment and Central American Relief Act (NACARA) which included Nicaraguans, Cubans, Salvadorans and Guatemalans.
  • Nicaraguans and Cubans fleeing from communist regimes received permanent residency under Section 202, while Salvadorans and Guatemalans received only cancellation of deportation and the opportunity to apply for asylum under Section 203.
later arrangements
Later arrangements
  • An estimated 374,000 Central Americans are living in the US under Temporary Protected Status (TPS), which the attorney general granted in 1998 and 2001 after natural disasters in the region.
level of education
Level of education
  • Of the Central American born age 25 and older, less than half have a high school diploma.
  • The foreign born from El Salvador :

- the lowest high school graduation rate (34.8 %)

- one of the lowest percentage of those age 25 and older with a bachelor's degree (4.9 %).

  • Foreign born from Guatemala:

- one of the lowest of high school graduation (37.3 %

- lowest percentage of college degree (3.0 %)

Central Americans foreign born, High school and college graduation rates, age 25 or olderSource: US Census Bureau, Census 2000