Document:“Migration and Refugee Assistance Act of 1962”

Information for Teachers

The Law

Background Information

Hundreds of thousands of Cuban refugees arrived in Florida in the early 1960s. The mass exodus following the Revolution of 1959 prompted changes in U.S. immigration policy, especially federal assistance available to political refugees. 

On June 28, 1962, the United States Congress approved the Migration and Refugee Assistance Act (MRA). The MRA expanded existing programs and funding for refugee assistance. The act authorized Congress to appropriate “such amounts as may be necessary from time to time” to provide assistance to refugees, particularly those fleeing from regions under the influence of the Soviet Union. By providing assistance to refugees, the U.S. hoped to “contribute to the defense [,] the security [and to] the foreign policy interests of the United States.”

Under the MRA of 1962, a refugee was defined as a non-U.S. citizen who fled their home country “because of persecution or fear of persecution on account of race, religion, or political opinion.” The extension of assistance to refugees who met these standards served as an important symbolic weapon in the Cold War. In combination with other programs, the MRA aimed to improve the image of the United States in the world.

The Cuban Refugee Assistance Program (CRA), first authorized by President John F. Kennedy in 1961, developed out of the broad guidelines outlined in the MRA. Cuban refugees arriving in the United States received education, health and employment assistance from the CRA. Since most Cuban refugees settled in Florida, the majority of CRA efforts took place in the Sunshine State.

Use to illustrate:

  • The legal basis for the Cuban Refugee Assistance Program.
  • The broad powers granted to the President and to the Congress to implement refugee assistance programs.

Questions for students

  1. Who qualified as a refugee under the Migration and Refugee Assistance Program of 1962?
  2. Who did the Migration and Refugee Assistance Program of 1962 authorize to deal with funding and services made available to refugees?

Sample Answers

  1. The MRA defined a refugee as an individual who fled their home county “because of persecution or fear of persecution on account of race, religion, or political opinion.”
    1. The teacher should explain that, in effect, a refugee could only come from a county “at war” or “hostile” to the United States. In other words, a person could not claim persecution from a county allied with the U.S. as this would amount to a statement of opposition, by the U.S., of that country’s political situation. For example, the United States supplied military assistance to El Salvador’s government during the 1980s. The government of El Salvador, in conjunction with the national military, used this assistance to suppress internal calls for reform. Some of the people suffering from government repression fled to the U.S. However, these individuals could not enter the country legally as refugees because the U.S. had demonstrated their approval for the government of El Salvador.
  2. The MRA gave broad authorization to the President to enact and the Congress to fund refugee assistance programs.
    1. Teachers should note the phrase “from time to time” in the act. This allowed for some flexibility on when and how to fund the program. In other words, if a situation emerged funds could be appropriated in a timely manner. This flexibility was intended to allow the MRA to act as an important public relations tool in the Cold War.

Additional Relevant NGSSS

  • SS.912.A.7.16: Examine changes in immigration policy and attitudes towards immigration since 1950.
  • SS.4.A.8.2: Describe how and why immigration impacts Florida today.
  • SS.912.A.7.11: Analyze the foreign policy of the United States as it relates to Africa, Asia, the Caribbean, Latin America, and the Middle East.
  • SS.912.W.8.2: Describe characteristics of the early Cold War.
  • SS.7.C.4.3: Describe examples of how the United States has dealt with international conflicts.