Immigrants and Refugees: A Basic Understanding



There has been a lot of talk about immigration lately, owing primarily to the Trump administration’s Muslim ban and the proposed Mexican border wall. If you’re like me, you probably have a basic understanding of what these terms mean, but may not be able to articulate their meanings if someone asks.  This article is here to help. The more facts you know, the more equipped you’ll be to spot and correct the “alternative facts.”


The Definitions

The two most popular words being used seem to be ‘immigrant’ and ‘refugee.’ So, what do these terms mean and what is the difference between them?

Immigrants move to a new country by choice, for a variety of reasons, not including war or persecution – that’s refugees. Refugees flee their homes because their lives or wellbeing are at risk in their own country. This article goes into more detail, but basically, an immigrant leaves their home by choice, a refugee because they have no other choice.  

There are a few other terms that are useful to know, defined below.

Lawful permanent resident (LPR): A person who is allowed to live in the U.S. permanently but is not a citizen.

Green card: Identification card for LPRs.

Visa: Official approval for a person to enter the country. Depending on where a person is from, they may not need a Visa to enter the U.S. if they’re just here for a vacation or a business trip. There are many different kinds of Visas, both permanent and temporary. The U.S. Department of State lists the different types of Visa classifications.

The Process

How do immigrants and refugees get permission to enter the U.S.? Immigrants must apply for a certain type of Visa, generally either family or employment . There is a cap on every Visa category, except “spouses, unmarried minor children, and parents” of U.S. citizens. Because of this, the wait can take years. More information on the process can be found here.

The process for refugees is different. They face a vetting process that includes fingerprinting, interviews, background checks, and cultural orientation classes. The process can take up to two years, and less than 1% of refugees actually get resettled each year. This infographic gives a detailed overview of the steps for a refugee resettling in the U.S.

Immigration Infographic

The Rights

Legal residents have most of the same rights as citizens. Undocumented immigrants may not have as many rights, but that doesn’t mean they don’t have any. Several Supreme Court cases from over a hundred years ago ruled that due process and equal protection under the law are the rights of every person in the country, even if they are here illegally. Two of the cases are Yick Wo v. Hopkins and Wong Wing v. United States. The Constitution is pretty clear:

“No State shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.”  


What Can I Do?

We all felt and saw the national outrage over the Trump administration’s Muslim ban, and many of us attended the airport protest that followed. But Central Florida has a diverse population, including immigrants and refugees, who are still going to need our help. One of the most basic ways we can help is by being informed.

There are a lot of ways that you can help our immigrant and refugee population in Central Florida.  One way to help: Volunteer with or donate to the Arab American Community Center of Florida or the Refugee Resettlement Program with Catholic Charities. You can join Indivisible Central Florida and follow Support Marginalized Central Florida Communities on Facebook to stay up to date on actions you can take.  

Finally, as with any issue, you can call your representatives. The Trump administration’s Muslim ban has been struck down, but they are certainly going to try again. When it happens, gives you numbers and call scripts for your senators and representative in the House. You can also find your local representatives here.

In Central Florida, we know that our diversity is our strength. And we intend to be very strong.

Be the first to comment

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.


This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.