Tuesday, July 30, 2019

Refugee Defined

Language matters. As we discuss refugee and immigration issues with people on both ends of the political spectrum, it is clear that language divides. We have not done a good enough job educating people on the simple definitions of a refugee, immigrant, and asylees.

A refugee is a person who has had to flee her/his country of origin out of fear of persecution or death. I have started to use the term legal refugee. Legal refugees are people who have been extreme-vetted, generally wait years in a refugee camp in a third country, and then are invited by the United States government to come live in the United States. Non-legal refugees could slip into the US, but that doesn’t happen often as it’s too difficult to get to the United States. A good example of non-legal refugees would be the boat-loads of Syrian refugees making their way uninvited across the Mediterranean Sea into Europe. I would still categorize non-legal refugees as illegal immigrants.

An immigrant is someone who has chosen to leave her/his country of origin for economic and other reasons. Legal immigrants are those who have applied to the United States and been granted permission to enter the country. An illegal immigrant is someone who has entered the U.S. without that permission, or who overstayed their time if here on a time-limited status. A 2017 study estimates that 42% of the illegal immigrants, 4.5 million people, are here because they have overstayed their expired visa!

Asylees are people who have entered the U.S. or arrived at a port of entry and requested asylum to escape persecution or death in their country of origin. Chinese people account for the most asylees in the U.S., followed by El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras, Mexico, India, Nepal….

When Lutheran Services Carolinas talks about serving legal refugees, and advocating for legal immigrants to fill jobs when there are no Americans to fill them, I have heard no opposition save the most extreme. Language matters.