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The Refugee Challenge in Post-Cold War America

María Cristina García

Publication Date - 19 June 2020

ISBN: 9780197533598

356 pages
6.14 x 9.21 inches

In Stock


For over forty years, Cold War concerns about the threat of communism shaped the contours of refugee and asylum policy in the United States, and the majority of those admitted as refugees came from communist countries. In the post-Cold War period, a wider range of geopolitical and domestic interests influence which populations policymakers prioritize for admission.

The Refugee Challenge in Post-Cold War America examines the actors and interests that have shaped refugee and asylum policy since 1989. Policymakers are now considering a wider range of populations as potentially eligible for protection: victims of civil unrest, genocide, trafficking, environmental upheaval, and gender-based discrimination, among others. Many of those granted protected status since 1989 would never have been considered for admission during the Cold War.

Among the challenges of the post-Cold War era are the growing number of asylum seekers who have petitioned for protection at a port of entry and are backlogging the immigration courts. Concerns over national security have also resulted in deterrence policies that have raised important questions about the rights of refugees and the duties of nations. María Cristina García evaluates the challenges of reconciling international humanitarian obligations with domestic concerns for national security.


  • Appropriate for non-expert readers who are seeking an accessible historical overview of the US refugee and asylum system
  • Provides a basis for understanding current policy debates on immigration and refugee policy
  • Based on a wide variety of primary sources including oral interviews with refugees and policymakers

About the Author(s)

María Cristina García is the Howard A. Newman Professor of American Studies in the Department of History at Cornell University. She also holds a joint appointment in the Latino Studies Program. She has served as President of the Immigration and Ethnic History Society. Her books include Havana USA: Cuban Exiles and Cuban Americans in South Florida and Seeking Refuge: Central American Migration to Mexico, the United States, and Canada, and several other publications on immigration and refugee history.


"The scholarly community owes García a huge debt of gratitude for blazing a trail upon which the next generation of scholarship can travel. Her latest book is essential reading." -- Amanda C. Demmer, Journal of American Ethnic History

"[T]imely....[S]he masterfully covers this difficult topic of causes and effects of public policy in a way that should make her book required reading for advanced students, scholars, and many general readers attempting to understand recent immigration....Essential."--CHOICE

"This volume stands alone as the best history of U.S. refugee policy in post-Cold War America. García chronicles the struggles of Russian refuseniks, Chinese dissidents, Rwandans fleeing genocide, as well as Haitian and Cuban boat people among those seeking sanctuary from persecution. Her meticulous research and incisive analysis illuminates the confusions and inadequacies of United States refugee policy under Republican and Democratic presidents alike." --Alan M. Kraut, University Professor of History, American University and Past President of the Organization of American Historians

"The Refugee Challenge in Post-Cold War America is vital contemporary history. García explains the increasingly complex motivations that shape U.S. policy and the role of stakeholders inside and outside government. This book is essential reading on the politics of protection." --David Scott FitzGerald, author of Culling the Masses: The Democratic Origins of Racist Immigration Policy in the Americas

"García illustrates the ways in which refugee flows have evolved while refugee law has been slow to adapt. This important work provides new insights on the past that may inform policy responses to the current refugee crises." --Ruth Ellen Wasem, Clinical Professor of Public Policy, Lyndon B. Johnson School of Public Affairs, The University of Texas at Austin

"This book deftly explains how domestic politics, economic circumstances, and national security concerns have shaped what the United States has done-and not done-in the face of multiple refugee crises in the two decades after the end of the Cold War. With this masterful and elegant account, the first history to untangle post-Cold War U.S. refugee policies, Garcia demonstrates again why she is one of our most important scholars of immigration and refugees." ---Carl Bon Tempo, author of Americans at the Gate: The United States and Refugees during the Cold War

Table of Contents

    Chapter One: Now that the Cold War is over, who is a refugee?
    Chapter Two: US Refugee Policy in the 'Age of Genocide'
    Chapter Three: Refuge in the National Security State
    Chapter Four: The New Asylum Seekers

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