Year of the Dragon
Dancers in Long Beach, California, celebrate Chaul Chnam Thmey the Cambodian Lunar New Year in April 2000. One of the worst genocides of the 20th century occurred in Cambodia under the rule of Pol Pot. Many Cambodians were admitted to the U.S. as refugees after Vietnam overthrew the Khmer Rouge.
From World War I through the end of the Cold War, tens of millions of people were murdered because they happened to belong to a particular ethnic or religious group.
A Century of Genocide
Millions of people who emigrated to America came to live in a democratic
society or to worship freely. For many other immigrants, however,
especially in recent decades, getting to America was literally a matter of
life or death. Some had the misfortune to be members of a minority race,
religion, or ethnic group facing persecutionor even exterminationat the
hands of the majority. Others belonged to the "wrong" political party, or
social class, or backed the losing side in war.
Some historians have dubbed the 20th century "the century of genocide."
From World War I through the end of the Cold War, tens of millions of
people were murdered because they happened to belong to a particular ethnic
or religious group, as in the Armenian massacres or because they stood in
the way of totalitarian programs of "social engineering," as in the Soviet
Terror famine of the early 1930s.
In most of these episodes, the circumstances were such that escape to the
United States was simply not an option for the victims. The Holocaust is an
exception. Although the extent of the Nazi program of extermination was not
fully known in the West until it was well underway, Judenrein ("cleansing"
Germany of Jews) was an explicit goal of the Nazis from the time that
Hitler gained power in 1933. Despite ongoing evidence of the Nazi's
intentions, like 1938's Kristallnacht, the U.S. government refused to
significantly increase the admission of Jewish refugees before World War II
broke out, and by the time the United States finally made an effort to
prevent the deportation of Jews to the Nazi death camps, it was too late to
save more than a handful. The issues surrounding the American response to
the Holocaust are complex, but the failure to do more to prevent the deaths
of millions of Jews and other victims of the Nazis still haunts America's
Cold War Realities
The Cold War led to the linkage of American foreign policy and refugee
policy. From 1945 to 1980and even afterward, to a certain extentthe
United States gave priority to refugees fleeing from communist regimes. The
1953 Refugee Relief Act, for example, authorized the admission of more than
200,000 refugees mostly from communist countries, over and above the
immigration quotas already in force, while later special legislation
allowed people from specific groupslike Hungarians escaping the failed
1956 revolt against Soviet dominationinto the United States. With the
exception of Cubans, however, it was difficult for people living in
communist countries to take advantage of this policy. In the mid-1970s, the
United States faced a major refugee crisis when communist governments
seized power in Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia. People from these nations who
had fought with or otherwise aided the United States in its long war
against communism in Southeast Asia now faced persecution by their new
rulers. In response, the U.S. government authorized the admission of
130,000 Southeast Asian refugees immediately, and, between 1975 and 1985,
another 700,000 peopleabout 75 percent of them from Vietnamwere resettled
Source: Destination America by Charles A. Wills, Bibliography