Refugee Policy

May 30, 1980

Report Outline
Spotlight on the Caribbean
Global Efforts to Aid Refugees
Implications of Policy Reforms
Special Focus

Spotlight on the Caribbean

Questions Raised by Cuban ‘Boat People’

The next few months will provide a severe test of America's ability — and will — to regulate foreign immigration into this country. The Carter administration has committed itself to an effort to cut off the flow of Cuban “boat people” into southern Florida. The policy is opposed by the Cuban-American exile community and by supporters of America's traditional “open door” response to the world's homeless and oppressed. The policy is staunchly defended, on the other hand, by those who fear the social and economic consequences of continued unchecked illegal immigration, not only of Cubans fleeing the Castro regime, but also of Mexicans, Haitians, Jamaicans and other Caribbean and Central American nationals.

During the second half of April and the first half of May, more than 60,000 Cuban refugees left the port of Mariel, near Havana, in a “freedom flotilla” of small boats and landed at Key West, Fla. At the same time, Haitians — as many as a thousand in a single weekend — were slipping into Florida from departure points in Haiti and staging areas in the Bahamas. Until President Carter took steps to stem the refugee tide, Florida seemed about to become a Western Hemispheric Malaysia, unable to cope with the mass of humanity reaching its shores. To ease the pressure, the federal government opened four emergency refugee reception and processing centers, first at Eglin Air Force Base in northern Florida, then at Ft. Chaffee, Ark., Ft. Indiantown Gap, Pa., and Camp McCoy, Wis.

Since its beginning, the Cuban refugee crisis has been characterized by temporizing and diplomatic flip-flops by both the Cuban and American governments. Each side maneuvered to turn the situation against the other. The crisis started to build on Good Friday, April 4, when Peru refused to surrender six Cubans who had forced their way into the Peruvian Embassy in Havana. Cuba retaliated by withdrawing security forces around the embassy. With the gates open, Cubans began flocking to the embassy, seeking asylum. By Easter Sunday, more than 10,000 had jammed into the half-acre embassy compound, astonishing and embarrassing the Castro government.

ISSUE TRACKER for Related Reports
Refugees and Asylum
Jan. 17, 2020  Global Migration
Jun. 26, 2018  Refugee Crisis
Aug. 16, 2017  Refugees
Jul. 31, 2015  European Migration Crisis
Mar. 2009  Aiding Refugees
Jul. 09, 1999  Global Refugee Crisis
Feb. 07, 1997  Assisting Refugees
Oct. 27, 1989  The Politics of American Refugee Policy
May 30, 1980  Refugee Policy
Aug. 26, 1977  Indochinese Refugees
Apr. 11, 1962  Cuban Refugees
Feb. 25, 1959  Doctrine of Asylum
Jan. 08, 1958  Palestine Arab Refugees
Oct. 12, 1954  Assimilation of Refugees
May 03, 1950  Right of Asylum
Nov. 27, 1946  Immigration of Refugees
Apr. 14, 1938  Resettlement of Refugees
Immigration and Naturalization
Regional Political Affairs: Latin America and the Caribbean