The United States Refugee Act of 1980 (Public Law 96-212) was an amendment to the earlier Immigration and Nationality Act and the Migration and Refugee Assistance Act, and was created to provide a permanent and systematic procedure for the admission to the United States of refugees of special humanitarian concern to the U.S., and to provide comprehensive and uniform provisions for the effective resettlement and absorption of those refugees who are admitted.
This was the first comprehensive amendment of U.S. general immigration laws designed to face up to the realities of modern refugee situations by stating a clear-cut national policy and providing a flexible mechanism to meet the rapidly shifting developments of today’s world policy.
The main objectives of the act were to create a new definition of refugee based on the one created at the UN Convention and Protocol on the Status of Refugees, raise the limitation from 17,400 to 50,000 refugees admitted each fiscal year.
Furthermore, this act provided emergency procedures for when that number exceeds 50,000, and to establish the Office of U.S. Coordinator for Refugee Affairs and the Office of Refugee Resettlement. Most importantly, it established explicit procedures on how to deal with refugees in the U.S. by creating a uniform and effective resettlement and absorption policy.
The Act amended the Immigration and Nationality Act by defining a refugee as any person who is outside their country of residence or nationality, or without nationality. And is unable or unwilling to return to, and is unable or unwilling to avail himself or herself of the protection of, that country because of persecution or a well-founded fear of persecution on account of race, religion, nationality, membership in a particular social group, or political opinion.
Summing up this particular bill is quite simple: President Jimmy Carter was in office; the bill itself was a up to standardize the mass influx of refugees from South-East Asia, Russian Jews, and most recently accommodated President Barack Obama’s aunt and uncle.
We want to note that early action came in the form of the 1948 Displaced Persons Act, the Refugee Relief Act of 1953, and the Refugee-Escapee Act of 1957. In addition, the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1952, which was later amended in 1965 to include policy for refugees on a case by case basis, was the first Act that the consolidated U.S. immigration policy into one body of text.
At the time, there was an average of 200,000 refugees coming to the United States, most of which were Indochinese and Soviet Jews. The cost of resettlement was close to $4,000, but most refugees eventually paid this amount in federal income taxes.
Many Americans feared a floodgate scenario with a large and sudden increase of the refugee population, but the 50,000 cap would only account for 10% of immigration flow to the U.S. and would allow one refugee for every 4,000 Americans, small numbers compared to those of countries like Canada, France and Australia. The bill was adopted by the Senate by a unanimous vote on September 6, 1979, and remained essentially intact until it was signed in 1980.
Is it us — or does it also seem to you that every time either the president or Congress desires to enhance their own personal legacy — then up comes an Immigration Act and with it certainly more people exist in the United States.