The U.S. was founded and built up, over hundreds of years, on one basic principle: that everyone would be welcome within its borders, regardless of race, ethnicity, or religion. Unfortunately, that principle hasn’t held as true in recent decades as it was when the country was first founded; the “immigration debate” today is one of the most controversial and divisive issues that Americans are dealing with.
But when it comes to refugee matters, and providing a safe place for those who don’t feel welcome in their native countries, the U.S. is still very dedicated to providing that safety. The refugee resettlement movement, beginning in 1975, has provided over three million refugees with a safe place to call “home.”
So how are refugee matters any different from the normal naturalization process involved with other immigrants?
Simply put, refugees are immigrants — but because of extenuating circumstances (usually stemming from their home countries), these people are often faced with two options: either flee their home countries without any certainty of being accepted into another country, or stay in their home countries and face severe persecution.
According to the official United Nation High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) definition, a refugee is someone who “has fled from his or her home country and cannot return because he or she has a well-founded fear of persecution based on religion, race, nationality, political opinion or membership in a particular social group.”
That sounds like a pretty vague definition — we know. But think about all the violence and political turmoil happening in countries across the world: being on the wrong side of a political election can have dire consequences. In countries where women have few legal rights, domestic abuse can cause women to fear for their lives; despite a growing acceptance of homosexuality, in many countries, people who are suspected of being gay could face imprisonment, torture, and even death.
For a large percentage of these people — about 20% — the U.S. has provided a safe place to live. Every year, the President works with Congress to assess global issues and federal immigration laws in order to determine how many refugees can be accepted into the country.
As complicated as these immigration laws may seem to native-born American citizens, it certainly doesn’t come close to the anguish and fear involved in refugee matters. So no matter how restrictive new immigration laws may become, it’s essential that Americans remember the welcoming principle that their country was founded on.