Migration, at its core, is the movement of a person or group of persons from one place to another. This can be by choice or due to fear of violence, persecution, political corruption, or threats to life or livelihood. The latter is known as forced migration.
- According to Pew Research Center, in 2017, almost 50 million people living in the United States were born in other countries. This was 14% of the population. (source)
- Compared to other countries with immigrants, 14% is a small number. For comparison, in Canada, 22% were born in another country; in Australia, 28%; and in United Arab Emirates, 88%.
World Migration Reports:
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The words we use are important. However, terms dealing with migration can be confusing. Many terms are similar and, yet, it is important to use each correctly. The following are some of the most common terms used when discussing migration and their definitions.
Asylum seekers are not officially designated refugees, but they have applied to achieve refugee status. They are leaving their country of origin in order to escape war or persecution due to their nationality, race, religion, or political affiliation.
Under recent decisions made by US Attorney General Jeff Sessions, gang and domestic violence are no longer reasons one can seek asylum in the United States, even if a person’s home government does not provide adequate protection. As a result, families fleeing threats of death by gangs are considered migrants and, therefore, not be granted any special protections or permitted to seek asylum in the US.
A large number of people who come to the US-Mexico border are appealing for asylum because of dire economic circumstances or because of gang or domestic violence. Under current US law, none of these people qualify for asylum because the government does not acknowledge it to be a credible or reasonable fear.
An asylum seeker is someone who is seeking international protection from dangers in his or her home country, but whose claim for refugee status hasn’t been determined legally. Asylum seekers must apply for protection in the country of destination—meaning they must arrive at or cross a border in order to apply. Then, they must be able to prove to authorities there that they meet the criteria to be covered by refugee protections. Not every asylum seeker will be recognized as a refugee.
Tens of thousands of children and families from Central America have fled extreme danger— murder, kidnapping, violence against women and forced recruitment by gangs. Those arriving at the US border are being depicted as “illegal immigrants,” but in reality, crossing an international border for asylum is not illegal and an asylum seeker’s case must be heard, according to U.S. and international law.
"It doesn’t matter how you enter the country: If you’re in the U.S. or you arrive at a port of entry you can seek asylum. There’s no way to ask for a visa or any type of authorization in advance, you just have to show up," said the IRC's director of immigration Olga Byrne.
Migrant: Migrants are people who are leaving their home country and pursuing residency in another place, generally to find work, seek education, or to be reunited with their families. Unlike refugees, migrants can return home to their country if they wish.
“Migrant” is a difficult label, however, and is easily abused or misunderstood. Many people in Central America face extreme poverty and lack of resources (such as food, shelter, access to public services) to meet their basic needs. They are labeled “migrants” even though they have the same limited options a refugee may have.
Some believe that that the term migrant should be redefined as a more precise, neutral term. As currently defined, a “migrant” might be someone who relocates for a job, just as easily as it could be a mother fleeing Guatemala because of horrific gang violence. The two situations are not comparable, but currently the same label would be applied in both cases.
It matters what labels we use, what terms we apply. It changes our perceptions. It creates a narrative. It can incite fear or invoke sympathy. But what matters even more is that we not lose sight of the humanity of people, no matter what label is applied. Each person has a name, a face, a family, a history. When we bury people in rhetoric, when we dehumanize with a term, we strip others of dignity, we change the way they are seen and heard and loved.
But when we pull off the mantle of labels, when we allow people to move past assumptions, they are able to reclaim their story, their humanity. We allow them to rise.
An immigrant is someone who makes a conscious decision to leave his or her home and move to a foreign country with the intention of settling there. Immigrants often go through a lengthy vetting process to immigrate to a new country. Many become lawful permanent residents and eventually citizens.
Immigrants research their destinations, explore employment opportunities, and study the language of the country where they plan to live. Most importantly, they are free to return home whenever they choose.
A refugee is someone who has been forced to flee his or her home because of war, violence, or persecution, often without warning. They are unable to return to home unless and until conditions in their native land are safe for them again.
An official entity, such as a government or the United Nations Refugee Agency, determines whether a person seeking international protection meets the definition of a refugee based on well-founded fear.
Those who obtain refugee status are given protections under international laws and conventions and lifesaving support from aid agencies including the International Rescue Committee. Refugees in the U.S. also have the opportunity to become lawful permanent residents and, eventually, citizens.
Refugees have legal protections guaranteed by the United Nations Refugee Agency, or UNHCR, including economic and social rights, and the ability to bring immediate family with them. Every refugee is initially an asylum seeker, although not every asylum seeker becomes a refugee.
Click here for a backgrounder on the differences between refugees and asylum seekers.
The fluid movement of people between countries, including temporary or long-term movement which can be beneficial to all involved if occurring voluntarily and linked to the labor needs of the countries of destination and origin.
A migratory movement in which an element of coercion exists including threats to life and livelihood, whether arising from natural or man-made causes.
Fostering or encouraging of regular migration by making travel easier and more convenient.
A person forced to leave his/her home country due to war, persecution, or natural disaster.
Freedom of Movement
Freedom of Movement:
A human right comprised of three basic elements: freedom of movement within the territory of a country, the right to leave any country, and the right to return to his/her home country.
An Individual who is not considered as a national by any State under the operations of its laws.
Granting by a State of its nationality to a non-national through a formal act on the application of the individual.
The personal right of a refugee, prisoner or war, or civil detainee to return to his/her country of nationality under specific conditions laid down in various international instruments.
The relocation and integration of people into another geographical area and environment.
International Minimum Standards
International Minimum Standards:
The doctrine under which non-nationals benefit from a group of rights directly determined by public international law, independently of rights internally determined by the State in which the non-national finds him or herself. A State is required to observe minimum standards set by international law with respect to treatment of non-nationals.
Internally Displaced Persons (IDP)
Internally Displaced Persons (IDP):
Persons or groups of persons who have been forced or obligated to flee their homes or places of habitual residence, in particular as a result of or in order to avoid the effects of armed conflict, situations of generalized violence, violations of human rights, or national or human-made disasters who have no crossed an international recognized border.
MYTHS & MISCONCEPTIONS
MYTH: Immigrants take jobs from Americans.
FACT: Immigrants actually help to create more job opportunities through buying goods and services and stimulating the economy. Other immigrants hold jobs that many Americans don’t want, including working in fields and factories. States with large numbers of immigrants tend to have a lower unemployment rates.
MYTH: Immigrants don’t pay taxes.
FACT: Collectively, immigrants pay between $90 and $140 billion in taxes annually. Undocumented immigrants pay $11.6 billion in taxes annually.
MYTH: All migrants are refugees
FACT: Migrants, refugees, and asylum seekers are different terms and they have very important differences. You can read their definitions above.
MYTH: It is always illegal to enter the United States without proper documents.
FACT: It is ALWAYS legal to enter another country in order to ask for asylum. In fact, the only way to ask for asylum is to already be in the country from which you are seeking asylum.
MYTH: All “illegal immigrants” came into the United States illegally.
FACT: Most individuals who are in the United States illegally originally arrived with a legal visa that has since expired.
MYTH: Immigrants increase crime and violence.
FACT: Multiple studies have shown that immigrants, no matter their immigration status, their education level, or country of origin, are less likely to commit a crime than native-born citizens.
WHAT CAN YOU DO?
It may seem impossible to help these individuals, especially when you don’t live along the border. So what can you do to help asylum seekers?
- Pray. You can use this prayer for immigrant families if you desire.
- Learn More. Read more about the Remain in Mexico policy and how it’s impacting people’s lives.
- Volunteer at the border. Consider volunteering with Annunciation House in El Paso or Catholic Charities Diocese of San Diego and Catholic Charities of the Rio Grande Valley.
The USCCB has released a toolkit for the 2020 National Migration Week taking place January 5-11, 2020.
The 2019 Global Humanitarian Overview is the most comprehensive, authoritative and evidence-based assessment of world humanitarian needs.
Global Sisters Report brings a sharper focus to the plight of refugees through their special series, Seeking Refuge.
The International Organization for Migration released a handbook on the protection and assistance for migrants vulnerable to violence, exploitation, and abuse.
The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops released the Bishop of El Paso, Most Reverend Mark Seitz's testimony of The Impacts of Trump Policies on Border Communities.
The United States Commission on Civil Rights's report, Trauma at the Border: The Human Cost of Inhumane Immigration Policies, details recent changes to certain immigration policies have created a human and civil rights crisis at the border.
The 2019 Global Education Monitoring Report continues its assessment of progress towards Sustainable Development Goal 4 on education and its ten targets.
Three Northeastern professors are taking a different approach to studying human trafficking by focusing on the human supply chain and those who are victims.
The International Organization for Migration released Migration and the 2030 Agenda.