Relatives, refugees, and reform: Italian Americans and Italian immigration during the Cold War, 1945–1965
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This dissertation looks at Italian Americans who, in response to both their homeland's wartime destruction and postwar crises, and their own changing social position within the United States, called for increases in Italian immigration in the postwar period. In doing so, they both responded to, and helped shape, the politics and culture of both the Cold War at home and abroad and the Civil Rights Movement. Although racial discrimination was still the norm, by mid-century the social and political landscape for several once marginalized groups in the United States was changing. Italian Americans and other "Ellis Island immigrants" were arguably the primary beneficiaries of these changes. They had attained virtual political and social equality with many other groups of white Americans by the end of World War II. But for some Italian Americans the restrictive and, in their view, discriminatory policy of regulating immigration through the national origins system signaled a glaring barrier to their full equality in the United States. The passage of the McCarren-Walter Act in 1952, which reaffirmed the national origins system and low rates of immigration, continued to signal the undesirability of Italian immigrants, and Italian Americans by extension. Many Italian Americans came to embrace the cause of immigration reform shortly after World War II as evidenced by the formation of the American Committee for Italian Migration (ACIM) in 1952. ACIM became the leading organization in a network of Italian American and Catholic groups which labored on behalf of increasing Italian immigration opportunities and general immigration reform in the 1950s and 1960s. Adding to the urgency of immigration reform in the eyes of many Italian Americans was the plight of postwar Italy. Physical, economic, and political turmoil plagued the country after the war. Italian Americans sought to aid their homeland in a variety of ways, not least of which by promoting Italian immigration to the United States to relieve population pressures in Italy. The onset of the Cold War in the late the 1940s aided Italian Americans in their objectives. Italian Americans were quick to support American anti-communist initiatives in Italy and elsewhere in Europe. Moreover, Italian Americans adeptly appropriated anti-communist concerns and rhetoric to advance their own agenda for Italy and Italian immigration. They effectively obtained immigration opportunities for Italians under refugee relief legislation by arguing that refugee immigration from Italy would ward off communist appeals in the country in the early 1950s. Promoting non-quota refugee immigration became a strategy for Italian Americans to chip away at the effectiveness of the national origins system. However, this strategy became less effective as the focus of the Cold War shifted away from Western Europe and as economic recovery and democratization in Italy seemed assured later in the decade. As Italian American attempts to achieve increasing rates of Italian immigration by linking it with Cold War foreign policy concerns diminished, Italian Americans turned to another strategy to achieve their goals. Italian Americans and other critics of American immigration policy had always objected to the national origins system because of the racial and ethnic discrimination it promoted and legitimized. By the late 1950s the civil rights protests and arguments were making headway in the United States. While ACIM and other Italian American groups were part of a broader liberal coalition that advocated social equality after World War II, they did not make arguments for ethnic and racial equality their primary approach to reform until about 1960. By about 1960, ACIM and other groups began shifting their strategy for achieving reform and increasingly linked immigration reform to the Civil Rights Movement. They argued that biased national origins quotas should be replaced with a more equitable and egalitarian system of regulating immigration, proposing a system of family unification instead. Italian Americans achieved their goals of increasing Italian immigration and abolishing systematized discrimination against Italians and others with the passage of one of the pillars of Civil Rights legislation, the Immigration and Citizenship Act of 1965.