From December 1956 to May 1957, President Dwight D. Eisenhower made unprecedented use of the parole statute of the 1952 McCarran-Walter Act in order to rapidly admit 38,000 Hungarian refugees to the United States. Characterizing this decision as a reactive effort to repair strained relationships with Western European allies following the Soviet invasion of Budapest, previous scholarship has correctly recognized that Eisenhower’s actions “stretched American immigration law beyond belief”; at the same time, by assuming that sympathetic American legislators were eager to work with the president to find ways around legal obstacles to the admission of anti- Communist Hungarians, scholars to date have sidestepped the question of exactly how he managed to bypass congressional authority without provoking a constitutional crisis. Drawing upon sources including the president’s personal papers, NSC memoranda, and State Department memos in order to more fully excavate the fraught process by which the president compelled Congress to cede control of immigration and refugee policy to the executive, this article argues that Eisenhower saw his use of the parole statute not only in reactive geo- political terms, but also as a proactive means of creating momentum for the reform of the nation’s restrictive immigration policies. Asserting that the president sought deliberately to bypass legislators whose public expressions of sympathy obscured their lack of an affirmative commitment to the admission of Hungarian “freedom fighters,” it further demonstrates that Eisenhower preemptively deployed a high- powered team of public relations professionals as part of a media-driven “end run” around restrictionist legislators whom he expected to oppose his use of the parole statute. Finally, highlighting the centrality of representations of Hungarian whiteness and Christianity to the executive- driven PR campaign that accompanied Eisenhower’s refugee resettlement program, the article concludes that mid- century American notions of race and religion played a crucial role in generating public sympathy for displaced Hungarians and, by extension, in ensuring congressional acquiescence to Eisenhower’s bold interventions into the jealously guarded sphere of refugee policy-making.

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