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Letter to the President of the Senate and to the Speaker of the House Proposing Reorganization and Reenactment of Refugee Aid Legislation

July 21, 1961

Dear Mr.___________:

For a number of years the continuing refugee and migration programs in which the United States participates have been authorized and funded by the Congress through the Mutual Security Program. The precise objectives of ill but one of these programs are not consonant with the philosophy and purposes of the proposed new foreign aid legislation. For this reason they have been excluded from the proposed Act for International Development. The decision not to include these programs in the proposed aid legislation in no way detracts from their importance or the conviction of this Administration that they should be continued. I believe, however, that the statutory structure for them can be simplified and consolidated into one law. Accordingly, I transmit herewith for consideration by the Congress a draft of a bill which is designed to centralize the authority to conduct and to appropriate funds to support United States programs of assistance to refugees, escapees, migrants, and selected persons.

In transmitting the proposed legislation I should like to reemphasize the fact that refugee problems often develop initially as emergencies resulting from severe political or economic crises or from natural disasters. It is sound, therefore, to obtain a renewed and positive authorization from the Congress to support both the current programs now in operation, for which specific appropriation requests will be made, and such emergency programs as may be required in the future.

The proposed bill seeks authorization in support of the following principles:

1. The United States, consistent with the traditional humanitarian regard of the American people for the individual and for his right to a life of dignity and self-fulfillment, should continue to express in a practical way its concern and friendship for individuals in free-world countries abroad who are uprooted and unsettled as the result of political conditions or military action.

2. The successful re-establishment of refugees, who for political, racial, religious or other reasons are unable or unwilling to return to their country of origin or of nationality under conditions of freedom, dignity, and self-respect, is importantly related to free world political objectives. These objectives are: (a) continuation of the provision of asylum and friendly assistance to the oppressed and persecuted; (b) the extension of hope and encouragement to the victims of communism and other forms of despotism, and the promotion of faith among the captive populations in the purposes and processes of freedom and democracy; (c) the exemplification by free citizens of free countries, through actions and sacrifices, of the fundamental humanitarianism which constitutes the basic difference between free and captive societies.

3. Some refugee problems are of such order of magnitude that they comprise an undue burden upon the economies of the countries harboring the refugees in the first instance, requiring international assistance to relieve such countries of these burdens.

4. It is important to assist in the movement of persons to developing countries in need of manpower--the most valuable asset of the free world. The contributions of the United States, together with other free nations, to international migration assistance programs, not only helps build and strengthen developing countries and thus the free world, but it enlarges the opportunities of individuals to live useful, productive lives.

Consistent with the four principles just enumerated, the proposed bill provides authorization for continuation of the United States membership in and contributions to the Intergovernmental Committee for European Migration (ICEM) and for contributions to the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees. It also includes a general authorization for the United States Escapee Program, the program for assisting Cuban refugees, and similar programs for refugees, escapees, and selected persons whom the President may determine from time to time should be helped in the interest of the United States. It does not make provision for assistance to such groups as refugees in Palestine--a program closely tied to problems of economic development in the Middle East, and for that reason included in the proposed foreign aid legislation.

The bill intends that the extension of United States assistance shall be in a form designed to meet the varying needs of particular refugee problems at home and abroad, i.e., through cash in dollars or local currencies; through surplus commodities; through loans, grants or contracts; through international organizations, private voluntary organizations, or direct United States operations. It will be necessary to provide varying types of aid to meeting the varying needs which refugee situations present, including interim care, housing, welfare assistance, training, rehabilitation, job placement, local re-establishment, and overseas resettlement. Other technical provisions of the bill are designed to provide the necessary operational flexibility to meet the unusual and emergency features of refugee problems. There is also provision for a special emergency fund, subject to Presidential determination, to meet unexpected refugee and migration developments.

I am sure that the Congress shares with me and with the people of America our pride in the generous and successful efforts of the United States in helping the homeless and stateless victims of war and political oppression to live again as free men. The leadership which the United States has given to this great humane task has helped to generate wide participation by private citizens and governments in voluntary and international programs in behalf of the rooted. It is altogether fitting that the United States should do this. From the earliest days of our history, this land has been a refuge for the oppressed and it is proper that we now, as descendants of refugees and immigrants, continue our long humanitarian tradition of helping those who are forced to flee to maintain their lives as individual, self-sufficient human beings in freedom, self-respect, dignity, and health. It is, moreover, decidedly to the political interests of the United States that we maintain and continue to enhance our prestige and leadership in this respect.

Great strides have been made in alleviating many of the world's refugee and migration problems. Through the efforts of the free world in its continued support of international assistance programs, with the' added impetus of the World Refugee Year and of the improving European economy, many of the refugee camps in Europe have been closed and much has been done to improve the lot of thousands of other refugees in Europe who have been living in substandard conditions.

Yet millions of refugees are still in desperate want in many parts of the world and the foreboding atmosphere of political conditions and the oppression of communism gives continuing warning of more refugees to come. The United States must be prepared at all times to act promptly and effectively to help these new refugee groups as they emerge and to show our humanitarian concern for those who seek freedom as the unwilling and unfortunate victims of war and violence.

With the enactment by the Congress of the requisite authorization and appropriation legislation for these programs, the Department of State will continue its responsibilities for overseas refugee activities and the assistance programs for Cuban refugees in the United States will continue to be a responsibility of the Department of Health, Education, and Welfare.

I am confident that these proposals will be given the full and sympathetic support of the Congress. This country has always served as a lantern in the dark for those who love freedom but are persecuted, in misery, or in need. We must and will continue to show the friendship of the United States by doing our share in the compassionate task of helping those who are refugees today as were so many of our forefathers in the years past.



Note: This is the text of identical letters addressed to the Honorable Lyndon B. Johnson, President of, the Senate, and to the Honorable Sam Rayburn, Speaker of the House of Representatives.

John F. Kennedy, Letter to the President of the Senate and to the Speaker of the House Proposing Reorganization and Reenactment of Refugee Aid Legislation Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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