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The House Legislates Refugee Policy

June 16, 1948
The House Legislates Refugee Policy Image courtesy of Library of Congress President Harry S. Truman served in the U.S. Senate before his election as Vice President in 1944. He became President upon the death of President Franklin D. Roosevelt in April 1945.
On this date, the U.S. House of Representatives agreed to the conference report for the Displaced Persons Act of 1948. The bill (S. 2242), “To authorize for a limited period of time the admission of displaced persons into the United States for permanent residence, and for other purposes,” was the first time in American history that Congress articulated federal refugee policy. The new law was Congress’s response to the global upheaval caused by the end of World War II, which left millions homeless throughout Central and Eastern Europe, including survivors from Nazi death camps and German prisoners of war. In January 1947, President Harry S. Truman asked for legislation to assist and resettle these war victims—many of whom feared returning to shattered homes or communist rule. In April, Illinois Representative William Stratton introduced H.R. 2910 which would have allowed a total of 400,000 displaced persons into the United States for resettlement over the next four years. The unique feature in the bill was that these individuals and families were not immigrants—as refugees they had no choice but to flee their countries, and the United States was committing itself to provide them with a new homeland. The House Judiciary’s Immigration and Naturalization Subcommittee held hearings for the balance of the year, reporting out a new bill, H.R. 6396, that took many of the features in Stratton’s bill but reduced the number of eligible refugees by half. After the House and Senate worked out their differences in conference, President Truman signed the bill into law on June 25, 1948.

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