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Refugee, Part 2

July 22, 2018

Aspiring migrant from Mexico into US at Tijuana-San Diego border. The crosses represent the deaths of failed attempts. Author Tomas Castelazo, copyright (c) Tomas Castelazo, (CC BY-SA 4.0 International)

However dire their economic situation may be, there is a critical distinction between migrants who illegally cross the border of the United States in search of employment, and refugees who legally present at the border seeking asylum on humanitarian grounds.  Those legally seeking asylum have violated no laws.

Building on the Past

Built on the earlier Universal Declaration of Human Rights, adopted at the close of WWII, the 1951 UN Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees is a multilateral treaty which defines what it means to be a refugee, and outlines the rights of individuals granted asylum [1][2][3].

“Refugee Defined”

The Refugee Convention defines a “refugee” as:

“A person who owing to a well-founded fear of being persecuted for reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or political opinion, is outside the country of his nationality and is unable or, owing to such fear, is unwilling to avail himself of the protection of that country; or who, not having a nationality and being outside the country of his former habitual residence as a result of such events, is unable or, owing to such fear, is unwilling to return to it.”

Limitation on Number of Refugees

The US Refugee Act of 1980 uses a similar definition, laying out explicit procedures for how to deal with refugees and setting a limit of 50,000 refugees/fiscal year (roughly 1 refugee/6500 Americans).

Together, the Refugee Convention, a subsequent 1967 Protocol which expanded its geographic and temporal reach, and the US Refugee Act of 1980 govern those legally seeking asylum [4A].  The United States, also, in 1977 signed (then in 1992 ratified) the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, giving it the status of federal law [8A].

Causes of Refugee Movement

Since WWII, decolonization, religious, ethnic, and sectarian conflicts have triggered large scale refugee movement.  Climate change is expected to contribute to the displacement of increasing numbers of men, women, and children.

In recent years, those seeking asylum have, also, included women fleeing genital cutting, rape, forced marriage, domestic and gang violence; girls fleeing forced relationships with gang members; and boys fleeing forcible recruitment into gangs.

Fear of Terrorism

Here and abroad, there is legitimate fear that terrorists may infiltrate a country posing as refugees [5][6].

After the Paris attacks of 2015, over half of US governors announced they would not accept Syrian refugees, despite the fact they did not have authority to make that decision [8B].  Preventing radicalization is, however, an essential element in preventing terrorism [10].

No refugees since 9/11 have been arrested or deported on terrorism grounds [9].

Ruling Out Undeserving Applicants

The immigration laws, are, in fact, intended to eliminate undeserving applicants.

In the United States, those claiming asylum are referred for a “credible fear” interview.  They must then appear before an immigration judge and prosecutor.  Chances are they will not be represented by counsel in court, since as few as 37% of immigrants actually are [7A].

No more than 15% – 44%  of refugee claims are approved [7B].

“…for I was hungry and you gave Me food; I was thirsty and you gave Me drink; I was a stranger and you took Me in…” (Matt. 25: 35).

[1]  Wikipedia, “Universal Declaration of Human Rights”,

[2]  UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) Emergency Handbook, Convention and Protocol Relating to the Status of Refugees,

[3]  Wikipedia, “Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees”,

[4]  Wikipedia, “Refugee Act”,

[5]  Project 28, “Migration,Terrorism”,

[6]  European Commission, Migration and Home Affairs, “Crisis & Terrorism”, 7/7/18,

[7A and 7B]  Washington Post, “Seeking Asylum Isn’t a Crime.  Why Does Trump Treat It as One?” by Lindsay Harris,  7/1/18,

[8A and 8B]  International Justice Resource Center, “Reactions to Refugee Crisis May Violate States’ International Legal Obligations”, 11/25/15,

[9]  FactCheck, “Refugees and Terrorism Investigations” by Eileen Kiely, 3/10/17,

[10]  European Commission, Migration and Home Affairs, “Radicalisation”, 7/16/18,

This series will conclude next week.


  1. You make a very important distinction. A migrant is fleeing poverty. A refugee is fleeing war, violence, or persecution. Interesting note about the 1/6500 ratio.

    btw; I recently published an Op Ed on this very same topic:

    • I realize this is a sensitive topic w/ many nuances. Thank you for reading, Chris. I’m just about to head to your post now.

  2. Interesting post. I came across some caring thoughts under a post ‘Passport Privilege’
    … first few lines of her poem given below :

    “… Most of us take a passport for granted.
    Mine testify to earlier travels
    but now they seldom stamp it!
    Visas are another story when residing abroad.

    Yet some people will never have one
    invaded by a super power
    they are only issued a flimsy piece of paper
    that cannot be used for travel ….”

    I reblogged her full poem on refugees with my comments under the title ‘One World, One love, One heart’ ( which you may find interesting. I hope the link works.


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