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Like Donald Trump, Ronald Reagan tried to keep out asylum seekers

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tags: Ronald Reagan, immigration, Trump



Carly Goodman is a historian of immigration and American foreign relations. She is a Mellon/ACLS Public Fellow and communications analyst at the American Friends Service Committee.

The Trump administration is working to make it impossible for people fleeing violence in Central America to gain asylum in the United States. If it succeeds, the family separations and family detentions we have already seen are only the beginning of the suffering, and even death, that will result from these brutal changes to U.S. immigration policy.

That the United States should be a haven for the persecuted is an old idea, one that has been made concrete through international agreements and domestic laws governing refugees since the end of World War II. Yet the country has not always lived up to these ideals, and ensuring that immigrants, refugees and asylum seekers are treated fairly and humanely has often been left to activists and other people of conscience. Indeed, when President Ronald Reagan attempted to deny asylum seekers in the 1980s, a movement formed to stop him, creating a model for activists today.

Like President Trump, Reagan systematically denied asylum to people from El Salvador and Guatemala by refusing to consider those fleeing violence and arriving at the U.S.-Mexico border as refugees.

To do so, though, he had to disregard a recent change in U.S. policy. The Refugee Act of 1980 underscored the obligation of the United States to welcome refugees, bringing the country in line with international standards, specifically the 1951 U.N. Convention and the 1967 Protocol Relating to the Status of Refugees, which the United States had ratified in 1968.

Before 1980, the United States had frequently been a haven for people fleeing communist regimes; its refugee policy served Cold War foreign-policy aims, signaling to a global audience that it was more humane than repressive regimes. Resettling thousands of Hungarians fleeing political oppression behind the Iron Curtain in the 1950s, for example, the federal government smoothed the integration of these newcomers in U.S. communities, portraying them sympathetically as aspiring Americans. ...

Read entire article at The Washington Post

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