Penn Arts and Sciences

The New Refugees: Seeking Haven in Post-Cold War, Post-9/11 America (Maria Cristina Garcia)

Thursday, January 30, 2014 - 4:30pm - 6:00pm

View now on YouTube.

Co-sponsored by the Trustees' Council of Penn Women, the Department of History, the Latin American and Latino Studies Program, and the Penn Program on Democracy, Constitutionalism, and Citizenship.

THE END OF THE COLD WAR altered the ideological lens that for half a century shaped U.S. definitions of – and policies toward – refugees and asylum-seekers. During the Cold War, the vast majority of the refugees resettled in the United States came from communist countries, but today “refugees” and “asylees” receive protection on a much wider range of religious, political, social, and gender-related grounds. Foreign policy, concerns about homeland security, and humanitarian obligations continue to influence who is admitted to the U.S. and in what numbers, but non-governmental actors and the courts are playing an ever greater role in shaping U.S. refugee policy.  Prof. Garcia examines these developments, as well as the implications of these changing definitions for both immigrant and host societies.

“Thus, Mexico, the United States, and Canada have two parallel and competing goals in the new century: facilitate the free movement of capital while controlling the movement of ‘undesirables.’  Decades of immigration restriction measures have demonstrated the difficulties of controlling unwanted migration.  Visas, fines on airlines and shipping companies, increased border security personnel, criminal penalties on smugglers, streamlined detention and deportation procedures, and multinational ‘crackdowns’ on illegal immigration may temporarily reduce the number of immigrants and refugees in a given year, but only until new entry points, transportation networks, and legal loopholes are discovered. . . . Unfortunately, refugees are now subsumed under this general category of ‘undesirables.’  The goal of these three countries, as well as others in the region, should be to create and reinforce procedural safeguards that respect the safety and human rights of all migrants.”
– From Seeking Refuge

Maria Cristina Garcia is the Howard A. Newman Professor of American Studies at Cornell University.  She studies refugees, immigrants, exiles, and transnationals in the Americas. Her first book, Havana USA (1996), examined the migration of Cubans to the United States after Fidel Castro took power in 1959. Her second book, Seeking Refuge (2006), is a study of the individuals, groups, and organizations that responded to the Central American refugee crisis of the 1980s and 1990s, and helped shape refugee policies throughout North America. Garcia has been chosen as a fellow for 2013-14 by the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars in Washington, D.C. Her project as a Woodrow Wilson Center Fellow in residence will be “Refuge in Post-Cold War America.”

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