The Mariel Boat-lift represents the largest immigrant humanitarian crisis to ever hit an American city. This paper traces the history of this humanitarian crisis in the City of Miami to consider how comprehensive planners were involved in the collection of demographic data and the empowerment of Cuban Americans. Comprehensive planners had to confront the absence of demographic data as they sought to deal with the physical and social impacts of the refugee influx. The Boatlift took place immediately after efforts to conduct the 1980 U.S. Census, and its effect was to dramatically disrupt any new understanding of Miami’s urban population, its locations and needs. Nevertheless, the collection, recording, and interpretation of demographic data during and after the Mariel Boatlift eventually played a crucial role in energizing an apparatus of Cuban-American community development and a new framework that justified not only political-asylum policies but also provisions and services empowering new trends in political representation at the local level. Miami thus offers a historical case study of how the work of comprehensive planners may become politicized through episodes of humanitarian crisis, community response, and ethnic empowerment. The history of the Mariel Boatlift and the response of comprehensive planners advance understanding of political change in cities and the role of urban spaces, immigrant groups, and comprehensive planners in bringing about ethnic empowerment.
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- Comprehensive planning
- Cuban Americans
- community development
- humanitarian crisis