Abolitionist movement

Debates over slavery touched every aspect of American life during the decades leading up to the U.S. Civil War (1861-1865).

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Acquired immunodeficiency syndrome

The emergence of acquired immunodeficiency syndrome (AIDS)...

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Affirmative action

The convergence of affirmative action policy and mass immigration into the United States from Latin America and Asia has had some unintended consequences.

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African Americans and immigrants

Significance: The unique circumstances arising from the manner in which the vast majority of African Americans came to the Western Hemisphere and the question of whether African Americans should be considered an immigrant group in the strict sense of the term have contributed substantially to the overarching debate over the role of race in American society. Adding to whatever racial tensions might have arisen among African Americans and certain immigrant groups, resentment has been manifested in some quarters over perceived preferment of newcomers over the long-established African American population.

African Americans and immigrants

Harper’s Weekly illustration of the burning of New York City’s African American orphan asylum during the 1863 draft riots.

Over the general, long-term perspective on history, the relationship between African Americans and other immigrant groups to the United States has revolved around mutual suspicion and competition. This aura of suspicion and competition has been heavily overlain and exacerbated by the racial issues that had already been set in place during the early colonial era. During the early seventeenth century, the few Africans who were transported to colonial Virginia, Maryland, and New England colonies held the status of indentured servants. Chattel slavery similar to that already in place in Spanish and Portuguese America had yet to secure legal status in the North American colonies. However, events moved rapidly. Spurred by concerns about the long-term stability of the system of indentured servitude and questions of interracial marriage and sexual unions, the various English colonial governments put into place legalized systems of permanent, racially based chattel slavery.

Massachusetts was the first North American colony to institute slavery on the Latin American model. However, it was in Virginia in 1661 that the southern slavery model, which would persist to 1865, was set in place. By the end of the seventeenth century a legal and social code of separating the "black” and "white” races was firmly fixed. This system of racial separation endured, in its various permutations, into the late 1960’s. As it would prove, this was to be the general rule whether or not these "whites” were long-established, and mainly of English stock; or part of subsequent waves of immigration from Ireland, Scandinavia, or central, southern, or eastern Europe. When society was defined in racial terms, all white persons, regardless of their condition in society, could look upon themselves as "preferred” over all African Americans.

Great Draft Riot of 1863

Communities of free African Americans existed from early colonial times. However, because of the growing incompatibility of the chattel slavery system outside the South, they flourished to a far greater degree in the northern colonies and states, particularly in the more vibrant economic climate of northern urban centers. As a distinctly identifiable and socially denigrated minority, African Americans invariably competed with newly arrived white immigrants for the lowest-paying jobs. With substantial white immigrant communities in nearly every major center by the 1860’s and increasing numbers of African American slaves escaping into the North on the Underground Railroad, relations between black and white communities grew more tense.

The U.S. Civil War (1861-1865) was resented by many white northerners as being waged to eliminate slavery. These people feared the prospect of a tidal wave of freed black slaves coming north from southern plantations to threaten the livelihood of poor whites. In 1863. the first military conscription in the United States brought this resentment to fever pitch, as lower-class whiles saw themselves as being compelled to participate in a struggle to free black slaves that would work against their own interests.

In New York City, this resentment sparked a series of events that culminated in a bloody draft riot. In July. 1863, a motley group white of protesters, among whom German and Irish immigrant laborers were prominent, rapidly degenerated into a mob and began a rampage of vandalism, arson, assault, and murder. Over a four-day period, they burned down an orphanage for black children and relentlessly brutalized African Americans, as many as two thousand of whom may have lied the city seeking safely.

Twentieth century developments

The great New York City draft riot, notorious and horrific in its scope as it was. set the tune for subsequent northern and midwestern riots against African Americans. This ongoing violence was partially fueled by the anxieties and feelings of insecurity on the part of white immigrant groups. Anti-African American sentiment among while immigrants grew after the Civil War and during the early twentieth century. Meanwhile, during the first three decades of the new century, a movement that became known as the Great Migration saw the movement of many thousands of African Americans from the South to the North, where the) sought employment in urban centers. The same years also saw a massive influx of European immigrants into the United States.

As Jim Crow segregation systems became more rigid throughout the South and economic conditions there generally worsened, African Americans sought comparative freedom and better employment opportunities in northern cities, in which they formed ethnic enclaves. New York City\'s Harlem and Boston\'s Roxbury became two of the largest and best known of such communities. As black southerners were moving north, large numbers of eastern and southern Europeans were entering the United States, enlarging or creating their own ethnic enclaves. They were also coming into competition—at times violently—with African Americans for jobs. Interactions between Jews and African Americans were more ambiguous because of the existence of small but vocal groups within both communities harboring attitudes of racial exclusivity and religious anti-Semitism.

The decade of the 1960’s witnessed both the ebbing of the old immigration patterns and the crest of the Civil Rights movement. Although African Americans made major political and economic strides as a result of the successes of the Civil Rights movement, their very success engendered a new consciousness among members of other minority groups, particularly Asian Americans. Through the ensuing decades, the numbers of Asian Americans were considerably augmented by refugees from military conflicts in Vietnam, Cambodia, and Laos. However, the great rise in Latin American immigration would prove to have the greatest impact on African Americans.

"New Immigration” and African Americans

By the last decades of the twentieth century, American Latinos and Latin American immigrants—who are often collectively known as Hispanics—combined to overtake African Americans as the largest ethnic minority category in the United States. However, Latinos comprise people from many highly disparate nationalities, including Puerto Ricans, Cuban Americans, Mexican Americans, and other groups with roots in Central America, South American, and the Caribbean. To complicate their relationship with African Americans even further, many Latin groups contain strong black elements. Consequently, there has been measurable outreach between African Americans and Latinos. Some African American community and legislative leaders have joined with Hispanic leaders to support liberalized immigration policies. Many educational institutions, especially historically black colleges, have actively recruited students from Hispanic communities.

Despite increasing African American cooperation with Hispanics, the major American political parties have tended to treat Hispanics and African Americans as separate and distinct voting blocs. For example, the Republican Party heavily courted Hispanic voters during the 2000 and 2004 national elections, and a modest outreach initiative by the George W. Bush administration to enlist greater African American support was stymied by the handling of the Hurricane Katrina disaster in New Orleans. What was perceived as a belated and inadequate response by the Bush administration was roundly criticized.

A question generating great differences of opinion has been what the impact of increasing Hispanic immigration—both legal and illegal—might have on already high unemployment rates within the African American community. Moreover, as African Americans have seen many Hispanics reach higher levels than most African Americans, black resentment has grown over the possibility that favoritism has been shown to the newer arrivals. However, there is no evidence that disparities between black and Hispanic incomes are any more than a perception. 

Raymond Pierre Hylton

Further Reading

Chang, Iris. The Chinese in America: A Narrative History. New York: Viking Penguin, 2003. Though this book is mainly about Chinese Americans, it often offers comments on African Americans that present interesting juxtapositions of the historical interplay of African Americans with a large nonwhite immigrant group.

Katz, Loren William, ed. Anti-Negro Riots in the North, 1863. New York: Arno Press, 1969. Compilation of historical documents that illuminate the reasons why immigrants rioted.

Learner, Michael, and Cornel West. Jews and Blacks: A Dialogue on Race, Religion, and Culture in America. New York: Penguin Books, 1996. Two intellectuals, one Jewish, the other African American, discuss the long and paradoxical interplay between their marginalized communities.

Morgan, Edmund. American Slavery, American Freedom: The Ordeal of Colonial Virginia. New York: W. W. Norton, 1975. Useful for providing background information for and chronicling the advent of slavery and racism into the American social and legal fabric.

Morrison, Toni. What Moves at the Margin: Selected Nonfiction. Edited by Carolyn C. Denard. Jackson: University Press of Mississippi, 2008. Contains the Nobel Prize-winning author’s 1993 essay "On the Backs of Blacks,” which presents a stark analysis of the dilemma of race as relating to nonblack immigrants and their attitudes toward and interactions with African Americans.

Swain, Carol Miller, ed. Debating Immigration. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2007. Collection of essays on immigration, the most significant of which concerning racial issues are those by Swain and Jonathan Tilove.

See also: Abolitionist movement; Affirmative action; African immigrants; American Colonization Society; Civil Rights movement; Ethiopian immigrants; Garvey, Marcus; Liberia; Slave trade; Stereotyping; Universal Negro Improvement Association; West Indian immigrants.

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African immigrants

Many early African immigrants came to the United States as students during the early 1920’s.

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Afroyim v. Rusk

The Afroyim decision established that U.S. citizenship may not be revoked involuntarily for actions such as voting in a foreign country.

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Patterns of immigration in Alabama have varied markedly among different areas of the state, making the state as a whole ethnically diverse...

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Alaska saw considerable Russian immigration during the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, but by the early twentieth century...

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Madeleine Albright

Identification: Czechoslovakian-born American who became U.S. secretary of state

Born: May 15, 1937; Prague, Czechoslovakia

Significance: A scholar who became the first woman to serve as a U.S. secretary of state, Albright drew on her life experience and extensive knowledge of world affairs to champion human rights and gender equality around the world.

Madeleine Albright

Madeleine Albright in 1997. (U.S. Department of State)

Madeleine Albright was born Marie Jana Körbel, a member of an established Jewish family in Prague, Czechoslovakia, in 1937. Had German expansionism and the events of World War II not intervened, she might have known a comfortable, urbane existence in her native land. However, Nazi-ruled Germany advanced into Czechoslovakia the year after she was born, and her native country was forever transformed. Because the Körbels were Jewish, three of Albright’s grandparents would later die in Nazi concentration camps during the Holocaust. However, she herself would not learn her full family history until many years later, after she became U.S. secretary of state. When she was five, she and her immediate family members were baptized into the Roman Catholic Church. The family also dropped the umlaut from the name "Körbel”; the resulting "Korbel” had a less Jewish and more Czech sound. From that time, Marie Jana became known as Madeleine and was the only member of the family who attended Catholic mass regularly.

During the war years, as German armies advanced across eastern Europe, Albright’s family fled to England. After the war ended in 1945, they returned briefly to Czechoslovakia, where her father, a noted scholar in international relations, entered the Czech diplomatic service as ambassador to Yugoslavia and Albania. However, after it became evident that her father was not in harmony with the communist regime that assumed rule in Czechoslovakia during the late 1940’s, her family became refugees a second time. In 1949, they immigrated to the United States and settled in Denver, Colorado. Madeleine’s father accepted a professorship at the University of Colorado in nearby Boulder. There he developed a distinguished international relations program and mentored two future U.S. secretaries of state—his own daughter and, later, Condoleezza Rice, who would served as President George W. Bush’s secretary of state. 

Life in the United States

As a teenager, Madeleine adapted easily to American life, pleasing her father with her academic accomplishments. In the private girls school she attended in Denver, she was described as neither the brightest nor the prettiest but always the most highly motivated. It was thus not surprising when she matriculated on scholarship toWellesley College in 1955. Active in campus organizations, she made lasting friends from different backgrounds. She also acquired the ultimate mark of acceptance for an immigrant woman of modest means when, a few days after her graduation from Wellesley. she married into one of America’s most prominent and wealthy families. Her journalist husband, Joseph Patterson Albright, was heir to a newspaper empire that included the Chicago Tribune. Demonstrating again the Korbel family flexibility in religious affiliation, Madeleine complied with her new mother-in-law’s request that she become an Episcopalian. However, she explained to the Episcopal bishop who instructed her that she could not renounce her Catholic devotion to the Blessed Virgin Mary.

Throughout her marriage years, Albright suppressed her own ambitions while promoting the career of her husband. Meanwhile, she earned master’s and doctoral degrees from Columbia University, specializing, like her father, in international relations. She also acquired a second mentor, Zbigniew Brzezinski, another eastern European immigrant professor, who would later become national security advisor to U.S. president Jimmy Carter. 

Diplomatic Career

In 1982, after twenty-two years of marriage, Joseph Albright left Madeleine for another woman. Traumatic as the divorce was for Madeleine, it enabled her for the first time to follow her own career path. Now firmly identified as "Albright,” she taught at Georgetown University’s School of Foreign Service in the District of Columbia and advised Democrat politicians such as Walter Mondale, Michael Dukakis, and Geraldine Ferraro, the first female vice presidential candidate. Ferraro became a friend with whom Albright attended mass, when she briefly reverted to the Roman Catholicism of her childhood.

The election of Bill Clinton to the presidency in 1992 catapulted Albright into national prominence. After taking office, Clinton appointed Albrightambassador to the United Nations. Albright’s facility in European languages and her wide acquaintance with eastern European diplomats gave her an advantage over most American officials. At the United Nations she dealt with problems in Iraq, Haiti, Somalia, and Rwanda and closely monitored events in the Middle East. The plight of women, particularly in underdeveloped countries was a concern she shared with the president’s wife, Hillary Clinton, a fellow Wellesley graduate who became her close friend.

In 1997, President Clinton named Albright to the highest government office ever held by an American woman: U.S. secretary of state. The drama of her personal story, her charm, and even the jewelry she wore attracted wide press attention. More than most diplomatic officials, she was able to interest the general public in international issues. She traveled tirelessly, addressing a variety of pressing problems: ethnic conflicts in countries recently liberated from communism, the growth of religion-based terrorism, the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, and the ever-present Middle Eastern tensions. Perhaps because she had herself escaped the prime European tyrants of the twentieth century, Germany’s Adolf Hitler and the Soviet Union’s Joseph Stalin, she reacted forcefully to "ethnic cleansing” in the Balkans and genocide in Africa.

Lasting Achievements

Albright was much admired in Europe. As a patriotic American, she rejected Václav Havel’s extraordinary suggestion that she might succeed him as president of the Czech Republic. Her legacy was already impressive. She made the highest levels of U.S. government secure for talented women and worked to improve the lot of women everywhere. While acknowledging the dangers of a new world order, she maintained cordial relations with post- Soviet Russia and the People’s Republic of China. Even in difficult peace negotiations between Israelis and Palestinians, she could claim modest gains. Because she had become an American citizen by choice rather than through birth, she unceasingly promoted American ideals of justice and freedom. Although she did not employ the phrase "manifest destiny” of an earlier era, she spoke and wrote of her conviction that her adopted country did have the special task of spreading its ideals.

Allene Phy-Olsen

Further Reading

Albright, Madeleine. Madame Secretary: A Memoir. New York: Miramax, 2003. Revealing memoir in which Albright covers both her personal life and her professional career after she completed her term as U.S. secretary of state.

_______. The Mighty and the Almighty: Reflections on America, God, and World Affairs. New York: HarperCollins, 2006. Accessible study of religious movements throughout the world and their political ramifications.

Blackman, Ann. Seasons of Her Life: A Biography of Madeleine Korbel Albright. New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1998. Straightforward biography of Albright by an admirer. 

Dobbs, Michael. Madeleine Albright: A Twentieth-Century Odyssey. New York: Henry Holt, 1999. Critical examination of Albright’s career by the journalist who uncovered the Korbel family’s Jewish past while Albright was secretary of state. 

Lippman, Thomas W. Madeleine Albright: A Twentieth-Century Odyssey. Boulder, Colo.: Westview Press, 2000. Balanced account of Albright’s relations with both world figures and journalists. 

See also: Anti-Semitism; Czech and Slovakian immigrants; Higher education; Holocaust; Jewish immigrants; Marriage; Refugees; Religions of immigrants.

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Alien and Sedition Acts of 1798

These laws were the first example in the United States of repressive immigration legislation enacted amid fear of foreigners and war hysteria...

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Alien Contract Labor Law of 1885

This law and later federal labor legislation targeting immigrants prohibited American employers from recruiting and importing foreign laborers by promising them jobs on arrival in America.

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Alien land laws

Targeting mainly Asian immigrants, the alien land laws demonstrated an anti-immigrant hysteria in a nation that prided itself on the welcome it extended to immigrants.

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Julia Alvarez

Alvarez came to prominence as a novelist with the publication of How the García Girls Lost Their Accents (1991)...

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Amerasian children

Definition: According to definitions in congressional legislation of the 1980’s, "Amerasians” are the children of women of specified Asian nations and American men who were born during a certain time period. More generally, however, the term is often used colloquially to describe children of non-Asian U.S. citizens and Asian nationals

Significance: The vast majority of Amerasian children who immigrated to the United States after the early 1970’s were of American and Vietnamese descent. Those of American and Korean ancestry were a distant second. After 1987, Vietnamese Amerasians were permitted to immigrate to the United States and bring along close relatives, thereby adding to Vietnamese immigration to America.

Amerasian children

Barry Huntoon (left), an American VietnamWar veteran, with his wife and infant child in 1987, greet a teenage Amerasian girl whom Huntoon believed to be his daughter, born after he left Vietnam. However, the girl’s natural mother later denied Huntoon’s claim. Huntoon’s well-publicized story, later made into the 1990 television film The Girl Who Came Between Them, pointed up the difficulties of establishing the paternity of the many Amerasian children left behind by American war veterans. (AP/Wide World Photos)

After World War II ended in 1945, American troops remained stationed in East Asian countries such as Japan, the Philippines, and South Korea. After the Korean War ended in 1953, additional troops remained stationed in South Korea. The years that followed saw an increase in the numbers of children born to American soldiers and local Asian women. The vast majority of the American fathers were European Americans and African Americans. Very often, these fathers abandoned their children and the children’s mothers when they returned to America. 

Amerasians and America

The plight of fatherless Korean American children moved American writer Pearl S. Buck to call attention to their neglect, and she chose the term "Amerasians” for them. In 1954, Harry and Bertha Holt promoted American adoption of KoreanWar orphans. Some of these orphans were abandoned Amerasians facing discrimination in Korea as honhyol, or "mixed blood” children.

From about 1962 to 1975, as the United States became more deeply involved in the VietnamWar, relationships between American men and Vietnamese women increased. On average, relationships in which children were born lasted about two years. As American military authorities discouraged American-Vietnamese marriages, only the most determined Americans brought their Vietnamese wives and Amerasian children home to the United States, where these immigrants constituted the vast majority of the 20,000 residents of the country who were counted as Vietnamese by early 1975.

After the communist victory in Vietnam in early 1975, the situation inVietnam for Amerasians deteriorated badly. Even before that time, life had been difficult for them after their fathers left the country. The communists, however, made their lives even harder by showing active hostility toward the children of their American enemies, and they discriminated severely against them and their mothers. Called con lai, "half-breeds,” or bui doi, "children of the dust,” the children were bullied and rejected and denied good educations and job opportunities — which were already scarce under communism. 

Immigration Rights for Amerasians

When the plight of Vietnamese refugees known who tried to leave their homeland by sea caught the free world’s attention after 1978, the U.S. government became willing to admit them as refugees. The first Vietnamese Amerasian children arrived together with other Vietnamese refugees through the Orderly Departure Program (ODP) after 1979. However, this program did not address all the special needs of the Amerasian children. For three years, U.S. Senator Jeremiah Denton introduced and fought for what would become the Amerasian Immigration Act of 1982. On October 22, 1982, that act became law.

The first of two important pieces of federal legislation on this issue during the 1980’s, the Amerasian Immigration Act defined Amerasians as children whose fathers were U.S. citizens and whose mothers were nationals of Kampuchea (Cambodia), Korea, Laos, Thailand, or Vietnam, and who had been born between January 1, 1950, and October 22, 1982. This definition of Amerasian was a narrow legal term. Critics of the law objected that it did not immediately award citizenship to the Amerasians it defined, and that children of American fathers and women from Japan, Taiwan, and the Philippines were not considered Amerasians under the law.

The first five hundred Amerasian children admitted to the United States under the 1982 law left Vietnam in 1982 and 1983. As many as 5,500 Vietnamese Amerasians also left under the ODP. Soon, however, the Vietnamese government objected to the U.S. government’s calling these people "refugees” and halted their departure. The 1982 law also allowed only the children to immigrate, leaving behind their mothers in favor of American institutional or private sponsors if the children were under eighteen years of age. This provision explains why relatively few Amerasians from Korea and other eligible nations immigrated under this law.

The Amerasian Homecoming Act of 1987, which was enacted on December 22, 1987, corrected some of the deficiencies of the 1982 law. Under this new legislation, all children born to American fathers and Vietnamese mothers between January 1, 1962, and January 1, 1976, and their close relatives could immigrate to America.

The 1987 law quickly turned Amerasians in Vietnam from despised "children of dust” to "children of gold.” Some ordinary Vietnamese posed as relatives of Amerasians in order to go to the United States. By 2009, it was estimated that almost all eligible Vietnamese American children who wanted to leave Vietnam had done so. About 25,000 had immigrated under the Homecoming Act and as many as another 10,000 may have entered the country through other means. Additionally, Vietnamese Amerasians facilitated the immigration of some 60,000 to 70,000 of their Vietnamese relatives. 

Adjusting to Life in America

The majority of Amerasians admitted through the immigration laws of 1982 and 1987 generally succeeded in America. However, they did so only after adjusting to the English language and American culture and overcoming their limited formal educations, traumatized lives, and issues of abandonment and discrimination. Moreover, only about 3 percent of them could locate their American fathers. Those who came with their mothers and already had some command of English were among the most successful. Alcoholism, depression, drugs, and crime troubled some Amerasians, but most eventually adapted well.

Through the 1990’s and the early twenty-first century, there were persistent efforts by U.S. lawmakers to widen the definition of Amerasian children eligible for immigration or to bestow automatic citizenship to them. However, none of these efforts had succeeded by the year 2009.

Many Asian Americans have objected to the colloquial use of the term "Amerasian” for all children of non-Asian American fathers and foreign Asian women, arguing that such usage implies that Asian Americans are not real Americans. The 2007 American Community Survey listed 1,707,488 Asian Americans living in the United States who were also descended fromone or more other racial heritages. Among these people, about 170,000 were foreign born, and 66 percent of them—112,200 people—were born in Asia. Under the broadest, if controversial, definition of the term, they might also be called "Amerasians.” 

R. C. Lutz

Further Reading

Gage, Sue-Je Lee. "The Amerasian Problem: Blood, Duty, and Race.” International Relations 21, no. 1 (2007): 86-102. Scholarly analysis of the passage of the Amerasian Immigration Act of 1982 that is strong on the U.S. background regarding Amerasians. The author criticizes the law’s exclusion of Japanese and Filipino Amerasians.

Lamb, David. "Children of the Dust.” Smithsonian 40, no. 3 (June, 2009): 28-37. Informed journalistic overview of the fates of Vietnamese Amerasians and the key events facilitating their immigration to America. Praises the immigrants’ general resilience and corrects stereotypes. Illustrated.

McKelvey, Robert. The Dust of Life: America’s Children Abandoned in Vietnam. Seattle: University of Washington Press, 1999. Powerful and sympathetic portrayal of the fate of Vietnamese Amerasians before, during, and after their immigration to the United States.

Nguyen, Kien. The Unwanted. Boston: Back Bay Books, 2001. Autobiography of a Vietnamese Amerasian left in Vietnam after 1975, his sufferings, resentments, and eventual immigration to the United States.

Yarborough, Trin. Surviving Twice: Amerasian Children of the Vietnam War. Dulles, Va.: Potomac Books, 2005. Portrayal of five Vietnamese Amerasian children and their challenging lives in Vietnam and, after immigration, in America.

See also: Amerasian Homecoming Act of 1987; Asian immigrants; Child immigrants; Families; Intermarriage; Korean War; Nguyen v. Immigration and Naturalization Service; Orderly Departure Program; Refugees; Vietnam War; Vietnamese immigrants.

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Amerasian Homecoming Act of 1987

Federal legislation designed to ease immigration of Vietnamese Amerasian children and their close relatives to the United States.

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