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Author: iinedev

1954–1964 – “Refugee Relief Over Quotas”

Welcome to the fifth installment of our series “100 Years of Welcome: Commemorating IINE’s Boston Centennial.” The previous installment, “1944-1953 – A Home for the Displaced,” described how the International Institute of Boston (IIB) worked to resettle and integrate more than 10,000 people displaced by the Second World War and served hundreds of refugees fleeing communist dictatorships. Further into the Cold War period, IIB successfully transitioned into an agency focused on the needs of refugees while also making significant strides in the fight against the biased immigration policy. During this period, IIB lobbied against U.S. immigration policy based on the discriminatory “quota system” of setting caps on the number of immigrants admitted from designated countries.

Help for Hungarian Uprising

IIB responded quickly in the last months of 1956 when a new crisis erupted in a communist enclave of Eastern Europe just as the Refuge Relief Act of 1953 was set to expire. In October, thousands of Hungarians took to the streets demanding freedom from Soviet control. The Soviets tried appeasing them by appointing a liberal new premier, but by November, Imry Nagi had proven too liberal. Instead of a statesman, the Soviets now sent army tanks into Budapest. Twenty-five hundred Hungarians died in street skirmishes and 200,000 more fled as refugees.  

Back in Boston, the International Institute raced to coordinate with the federal government to admit as many Hungarian refugees as possible before the Refugee Relief Act was to expire at the end of December. Some were let in by the end of the year, but ultimately more were admitted afterward under the nation’s first use of “humanitarian parole,” which allowed threatened immigrants to enter the U.S. during emergency circumstances, but with limited rights and protections.  In 1958, Congress passed a law allowing Hungarian parolees to become lawful permanent residents of the United States, setting an important precedent. 

The International Institute successfully settled hundreds of Hungarian refugees in Boston and created a Hungarian social club to help them support one another. Within a few years, a Hungarian immigrant named Gaspar Jako would become the first Executive Secretary of the International Institute of Boston to be born outside of the U.S. 

Armenians Advocate

Another victory over the quota system came in 1959 when the National Council for Immigration and Resettlement of Armenians (NCIRA), founded at the International Institute, testified before the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee that despite the continued persecution of Armenians abroad, including many whose displacement had led them to Soviet countries, a backlog in visa processing was preventing them from joining their families and fellow refugees in the U.S. 

Persecuted Armenians had been settling in Boston since the late 1890s, and had significant settlements in Boston’s South End neighborhood, the neighboring city of Cambridge, the North Shore cities of Lynn and Chelsea, and most significantly, in the Greater Boston city of Watertown, which by the 1930s was 10% Armenian. IIB served this population from its earliest days, hiring “Nationality Workers” for the Armenian community in its founding year of 1924.

The NCIRA’s testimony would help lead the passage of Public Law 86/363, an amendment to the McCarran-Walter Act, which exempted many foreign-born spouses and children of immigrants from all over the world who had achieved U.S. citizenship from their country quotas for the purpose of family reunification. 

A Letter to President Kennedy

In 1960, Boston native John Fitzgerald Kennedy, a second-generation American with deep roots in Ireland, ran for president on a staunchly pro-immigrant platform. “Immigration policy should be generous; it should be fair; it should be flexible,” he said on the campaign trail. “With such a policy, we can turn to the world, and to our own past, with clean hands and a clear conscience.” 

In 1961, the International Institute of Boston seized the opportunity presented by Kennedy’s election to continue its fight against the quota system by sending a letter to the newly minted president urging him to act on his values and “take the lead in developing a non-discriminatory, humanitarian immigration system…” 

The letter called for “replacing the present national origins quota system by a more equitable and non-discriminatory method of selection…greater emphasis in legislation on family reunion,” and a “Permanent provision in the basic immigration law for…refugees from any refugee area, and to persons with special skills needed by our economy.”

Later that year, President Kennedy signed an amendment to the McCarran–Walter act addressing its use of country quotas. The amendment reformed the quota system by eliminating some of its explicitly race-based criteria, reallocating unused visas if quotas had not been met, giving visa priority to immigrants’ relatives to promote family reunification and to refugees, and expanding the categories of immigrants who were not subject to quotas.

Upon signing the bill, President Kennedy proudly stated, “We have removed a long-standing injustice in the way that immigration quotas are allocated, based on a formula that was obsolete and unfair.”

Later in 1961, when communist revolution flared in nearby Cuba, President Kennedy would again have the opportunity to prove his commitment to persecuted immigrants. Through his Cuban Refugee program, as well as the use of humanitarian parole, his administration would admit more than 200,000 people fleeing Cuba to the U.S. Working with the Massachusetts Council of Churches Refugee Committee and National Catholic Welfare Council, the International Institute of Boston helped thousands of these Cuban immigrants to resettle in Boston.

Kennedy continued to push for greater immigration reforms exactly in line with the requests from the International Institute in his home city. In a national address in 1963, he told his fellow citizens, “The national origins quota system has no place in the American way of life. It is an anachronism that no longer reflects the realities of our society or the values we cherish. I urge the Congress to pass legislation that will establish a more equitable system, one that prioritizes family reunification and the skills and talents of prospective immigrants.”

Preparing For a New Era
In 1964, IIB secured a new home. The growing organization purchased its own building at 287 Commonwealth Avenue in Boston’s Back Bay neighborhood and raised more than $100,000 from its Board of Directors and membership to outfit the space for case work, classes, and cultural events. Staff moved in and began operations just in time—one year before a landmark immigration reform bill that would change immigration policy—and IINE’s work—forever.

Today, just over a mile away in our offices on Boylston Street, the International Institute continues its focus on welcoming and resettling refugees, now serving more than 20,000 immigrants a year from 75 destabilized countries worldwide. Building on the work of the last 100 years, IINE and its supporters also continue the tradition of fierce advocacy for Kennedy’s “equitable and non-discriminatory” system of immigration with more pathways to entrance, permeance, and security for today’s seekers of safety, freedom, and a better future.

During our centennial year, we celebrate 100 years of life-changing support to refugees and immigrants in Greater Boston and prepare for our second century of service. Learn more here: IINE Boston Centennial.

Meet Our Interns

Every spring, summer, and fall, we welcome a new slate of talented and passionate interns to our team! In this blog post, hear from three of our recent interns from across the organization.

Mika Margalit, Grants Intern, Boston Office | Second Year Student, Tufts University

What are you studying at Tufts and what drew you to those studies?
I am studying International Relations with a focus on Security and doing a minor in History with a focus on Migration. I’ve always been interested in how conflicts happened and peoples’ stories, and that grew into foreign policy, immigration, and history.

What led you to an internship at IINE?
I have done past work with resettlement organizations, and I know I want to be involved in providing tangible services to immigrants and refugees. At IINE, I can see people who are actively raising the money to house people, or driving to the airport to pick people up, or helping them with their legal cases. Being able to intern here is just really special because I’m able to connect with the populations being served.

What did you do as an IINE intern and how did it help prepare you for future work?
I worked on the Grants and Contracts team. I helped find perspective grant makers for the organization. That included looking at which of our programs are most in need of funding and researching which foundations have interest in those funding opportunities.

I also did research for the grant proposals themselves. We’d have to find a way to convey why our organization is important so I would gather information about immigrants in the workforce, for example. I loved this work.

I think it’s prepared me in a lot of different ways. Being able to be in a professional setting, learn about the behind-the-scenes of what it takes to fund a nonprofit, develop my research skills, and work in a collaborative environment—it was all really special.

What was the work environment like at IINE?
I had a really amazing time. I ended up being able to connect with so many staff, and not just on the Grants team, but also in Donations, ESOL, and more (and realized that a lot were only a couple years older than me!). Being able to learn about the different types of opportunities out there was a really valuable part of the internship experience. I’m really sad to be leaving, I’m going to miss it a lot.

Would you recommend this internship to other students?
I would recommend this internship to anyone who is passionate about refugee advocacy. Being able to see what the work looks like on the ground to integrate refugees into the New England area was so valuable in understanding both the impact an individual can have and challenges of the work.


Aeden Kamadolli, Youth Intern, Lowell Office | First Year Student, Columbia University

Aeden Kamadolli
Aeden Kamadolli (center) on a field trip to the New England Quilt Museum with our refugee youth clients

What are you studying at Columbia and what drew you to those studies?
I am a Human Rights major. I was drawn to human rights as a field of study because I think that the world we’re living in currently is one where human rights are not actually human rights because they are tenuous/not guaranteed for far too many people. I think that learning about human rights in an academic setting will help inform my work in solidarity with communities who are currently being deprived of certain rights.

What led you to an internship at IINE?
I was interested in working with an organization that supported recently arrived people in the Greater Boston community (since I was back in Massachusetts over the summer), and my Googling led me to IINE’s internship program. I was particularly drawn to IINE because of the Youth program, as I had previous experience working with youth and it seemed like a great opportunity to learn new skills while doing work I was passionate about.

What did you do as an IINE intern and how did it help prepare you for future work?

I feel like I did so many different things over the summer. The Youth team is a small team, but they do so much to support youth clients, it’s actually incredible! I spent a lot of time doing text outreach to clients, and I also helped make and send out the weekly Youth program newsletter. I helped plan, set-up, clean-up, and generally facilitate different types of programming (workshops, field trips, tutoring, etc.). Over the summer, many of our youth clients were interested in finding jobs, so one of the other things that I did once I established rapport with some of them was help them make resumes. I also had the opportunity to shadow a few intakes that my supervisor was conducting. Finally, I spent a decent chunk of time documenting client interactions.

I learned how to write case notes and got a lot of practice navigating [a client database]. I also really deepened my familiarity with Canva because I had to do a lot of graphic design for flyers, the monthly event calendar, and the newsletter. I generally learned a lot about the city of Lowell and the different services and resources available to refugee and asylee families—and I even picked up a little bit of the Levantine dialect of Arabic.

What was the work environment like at IINE?
First and foremost, my supervisor was an incredible resource. I felt like I had the perfect amount of freedom— I felt very supported, but at the same time, I had a lot of agency when it came to the work that I was completing. I had the opportunity to work with some other Community Services staff, and in addition to making me feel very welcome, they were very approachable, and I felt comfortable asking them questions.

Did you have a greatest success story as an intern?
I don’t know that I can isolate a single greatest success, but I’m really proud of my Arts Afternoons initiative. I came up with the idea to have an afternoon once a week in the Youth space that was entirely dedicated to a specific type of arts and craft, and together with my supervisor, we planned out a unique art activity for almost every Monday afternoon over the summer. I think my favorite Arts Afternoon was a two-part one, where youth clients painted small terracotta pots one week, and then planted herbs and spider plants in their pots the next week. Some of the youth clients brought their younger siblings to the activity, and we had really great turnout both weeks— and I had so much fun sharing my love of plants with everyone! Afterwards, some of the youth chose to keep their plants in the windows in the office and would come in regularly to check in on and water them. I think it really helped the space feel cozier.


Innocent Ndagijimana, Community Services and School Impact Intern, Manchester, NH Office | Senior, University of New Hampshire

Innocent Ndagijimana
Innocent (right) at IINE Manchester’s annual World Refugee Day Celebration

When you interned at IINE, what were you studying at UNH and what drew you to those studies?
When I was interning, I was a senior at UNH, majoring in Business Administration. I chose to major in Business Administration because I am interested in becoming an entrepreneur. I plan on starting a nonprofit organization at some point in the future. The main goal will be to educate an underserved community such as immigrants.

What led you to an internship at IINE?
I knew about IINE because I was their client when I moved to the U.S. from Congo in 2014. I learned about an internship from my school’s career fair.

What did you do as an IINE intern and how did it help prepare you for future work?
My responsibilities included assisting the School Impact Coordinator with the process of registering kids (pre-K-12) in schools. I also helped adults by providing community services support. My internship helped me to prepare for my [current position] as an AmeriCorps volunteer [at IINE] because throughout my internship, I familiarized myself with the programs provided by IINE. I also built relationships with several clients whom I currently work with as a volunteer.

Did you have a favorite success story as intern?
My greatest success is that I improved my understanding of how to better serve immigrants. I learned about several programs that refugees need to succeed in their new country. I knew about these programs from a client perspective; it was very fulfilling to learn about the resettlement process from a server point of view.

Would you recommend this internship to other students?
I would definitely recommend this internship, especially for someone who is interested in helping people, and learning about different cultures around the world.

Love what you do. Every step of the way. Explore internship opportunities at IINE to gain hands-on experience supporting refugees and immigrants in New England.