The U.S. Has A Very Long History Of Hostility Toward Refugees

Public opinion was against taking in people fleeing Germany in the 1930s, Vietnam in the '70s and Cuba in the '80s.

Friday night's attacks in Paris prompted a number of governors to announce plans to bar Syrian refugees over concerns about terrorism -- statements that echo decades of American hostility toward refugees.

Polls taken since the 1930s show that general suspicion of people fleeing international conflicts is, by now, a well-worn part of U.S. history.

All charts are courtesy of the Roper Center at Cornell University:

  • 1939: Most Oppose Taking In German Refugee Children
    Roper Center
  • 1946: Most Don't Want To Require Countries To Take In Jewish Refugees
    Roper Center
  • 1953: Opinions Are Split On Allowing Refugees From Communist Countries
    Roper Center
  • 1975: Most Fear Vietnamese Refugees Will Take Jobs
    Roper Center
  • 1979: Most Don't Want To Admit 'Boat People'
  • 1980: Most Think Taking In Cuban Refugees Made U.S. Look 'Foolish'
    Roper Center
  • 1984: Most Say Fewer Refugees Should Be Admitted To U.S.
    Roper Center
  • 1985: Refugees Are Seen As Taking More Than They Contribute
    Roper Center
  • 1993: Most Disapprove Of Giving Haitian Refugees Asylum
    Roper Center
  • 2014: Opinions Are Split On Whether Central American Children Should Be Deported
    Roper Center

In a few cases, Americans have been more welcoming toward refugees. In 1991, for one example, a slim majority of Americans agreed that the country had a special responsibility to provide shelter and care for refugees fleeing Iraq. In 1999, a solid two-thirds supported bringing a small number of ethnic Albanian refugees from Kosovo into the U.S. And as recently as September of this year, some surveys showed that a little more than half of Americans approved of the decision to take in some of the refugees fleeing to Europe -- although others found less enthusiasm.

And at least in principle, Americans have held on to the belief that the U.S. has a special responsibility to take in those in need. Asked in 2011 whether the inscription on the Statue of Liberty -- "Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free" --  should still apply to immigration policy, more than six in 10 said that it should.

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