Inventing the Refugee: US Activists and Refugee Policy, 1945-1965


Mellon/ACLS Community College Faculty Fellowships


History, Philosophy, and Political Science


This project explores the historical forces that have determined how the line between “refugee” and “not-refugee” gets drawn. It contends that US-based activists of the post-World War II decades played a crucial role in defining the meaning of “refugee” in ways that continue to matter deeply today. Most of these activists had long experience advocating for immigrants and refugees. Yet it was not until the postwar era, amidst shifting global and domestic political currents, that they helped win a measure of legal recognition for refugees. At the same time, advocacy on behalf of refugees was and remains a double-edged project, constructing a divide that separates “deserving” from “undeserving” migrants without calling the international border-guarding regime into question.