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Sarah R. Meiners

Graduate Student

Sarah R. Meiners

Educational Background

University of Wisconsin-Madison, B.A.


I am a historian of the 20th century United States, studying refugee and immigration policy. I focus on political history and how the U.S. developed child-specific refugee policy during the Cold War. I am interested in the consequences of the U.S.' foreign policies and its strategic uses of humanitarian aid as well as histories of U.S childhood and children. 


  • History

Graduate Fields

  • Refugee, Asylum, and Immigration History
  • History of U.S. Childhood
  • U.S. Interventions in Southeast Asia


  • Southeast Asia Program


My dissertation analyzes the United States’ refugee policy specifically as it addressed child refugees during the Cold War. By analyzing the treatment of child refugees across several populations, I consider how ideological motivations, racial discrimination, and human rights concerns contributed to child refugees’ admission—or restriction. I consider political actors—defined broadly to include those in and outside of the United States government—and their contributions to the development and implementation of major migration legislation, policies, and resettlement procedures. Using archival sources from the National Archives and Records Administration, presidential libraries, ethnic society and community records, and oral histories, I examine policies enacted upon child refugees including, but not limited to, Cuban evacuees, Vietnamese orphans, Hmong soldiers, and detained Haitian unaccompanied minors. I track and interrogate political actors’ use of language, as, at various times, child migrants were described as children, refugees, orphans, combatants, or not rhetorically differentiated from adults. I also consider how child refugees were admitted compared to adults or other children to determine how perceptions of child vulnerability operated within or against political actors’ evolving perceptions of race. Ultimately, I argue that the United States’ Cold War ideological motivations were inseparable from political actors’ evolving notions of racialized childhood, which reinforced the United States’ inequitable refugee policy. 

Advisor:  Maria Cristina Garcia