“Turning our backs on immigrant and refugee populations would mean we are no longer willing to nurture others like myself who have a chance to grow and contribute to what makes America already so great. I ask you to please continue to fight tyranny and injustice by keeping the conversation going. We cannot allow this president and his administration to change the core American values that have been admired by the world through so many decades of exemplary practices of inclusivity”
Bahareh, Chicago IL
Members of the European Border Protection Agency from Portugal rescue 56 people off the Greek island of Lesbos on Tuesday
“Members of the European Border Protection Agency from Portugal Rescue 56 People off the Greek Island of Lesbos on Tuesday [AP].” Aljazeera, 8 Dec. 2015,
The above quote is from a refugee already settled in America explaining that it is necessary to continue accepting refugees, so refugees have a safe home where they can contribute to American culture and live their lives fully. Even if the current administration is anti-immigration, it does not mean that
An ongoing issue in the history of the United States has been Immigration laws and policies. I have chosen to focus on refugee immigration policy and assimilation, because I think that refugees should be completely welcome in the United States, since the United States has the privilege of being able to offer safer lives to those who live in fear. I have chosen this topic because I believe it is a very prevalent issue now and that it goes back far into American History. I am also very interested in the evolution of refugee policy and the way the political climate affects it.
The Immigration and Nationality Act defines a refugee as someone who cannot or will not go back to his/her/their own country because of a rational fear of persecution “due to race, membership in a particular social group, political opinion, religion, or national origin”(“An Overview of U.S. Refugee Law and Policy.”). The first Immigration Act was put into place in 1790. It was called the Naturalization Act of 1790. This act made a uniform policy of naturalization and a residency requirement for the United States. The United States first adopted a policy for refugees in 1948 in response to World War II and the fact that many Europeans were displaced(“An Overview of U.S. Refugee Law and Policy.”). It allowed 205,000 refugees to come into the United States. The Refugee Act of 1953, or The Special Migration Act of 1953, was the second refugee resettlement law and raised the number of refugees allowed to enter the United States(“History of U.S. Immigration Laws.”).
The prejudice and xenophobia that we see towards refugees today can be traced back far in American history. Throughout American history many refugees have been welcomed into America, but many have also been turned away. The rise of Irish immigrants in the mid-19th century sparked one of the biggest anti-immigration movements in history. Many Irish immigrants were considered refugees, because many were fleeing the potato famine. Two million people left Ireland for America at this time; this started an anti-Catholic and anti-foreign party, called the Know-Nothing Party. The members of the Know-Nothing Party believed that American nationality would be tainted by the foreigners, especially foreigners who supported the Pope(as many Irish immigrants did). In the late 1930s, the United States was reluctant to accept Jewish refugees who were fleeing the beginning of World War II. Officials in Florida turned away the SS St. Louis, a boat containing Jewish refugees, and 908 of the people on board ended up dying in Nazi concentration camps(Swanson). Throughout the history of America, the American public has never approved the acceptance of large numbers of refugees to the United States(“Key Facts about Refugees to US”).
“Refugee Education Crisis: Standout Statistics.” UNHCR, 14 Sept. 2016,
The Current Problem:
The current narrative surrounding refugee immigration policy and the attitude towards refugees comes from the Trump administration. The Trump administration lowered the refugee cap to 45,000 and now plans to resettle less than half of that. Previously, the average refugees resettled was 75,000 and Obama’s target for 2017 was 100,000. IRC estimates that only 21,292 refugees will be resettled in 2018. In 2016, the refugee cap was raised by President Obama so the United States could accept more refugees fleeing the Syrian Civil War. According to the IRC only 13% of refugees in 2018 will be Muslim, while in 2017 48% of refugees identified as Muslim. Furthermore, 0.5% of the refugees will be Syrian, but in 2017 15% were Syrian. This drop in refugees and in this demographic is thought to be because of Trump’s attempted travel ban from Muslim-majority countries(Yuhas). The Supreme Court is allowing Trump to keep travel ban on refugees, which blocks a lower court ruling that would have allowed 24,000 refugees into the United States by October. The ninety day travel ban ends in September and the 120 day refugee ban ends in October. The lower courts say that the bans violate the constitution and federal immigration law. The refugee ban includes refugees from Iran, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen(Press, Associated). The Trump administration has taken a strong anti-immigration stance through the caps on refugee resettlement, Trump’s attempts to shut down refugee immigration, and their current attempt to try and stop legal immigration by ending visas for family members of US citizens(Yuhas). One of the arguments against refugees is that dangerous extremists will be let into America, and will endanger American lives, because our refugee screening process is not strict enough. However, the refugee immigration process is long, stressful, and very hard to pass. The prejudice towards refugees began early on in American history, but continues to be shaped by the attitudes of the American people, the current administration, global events, and the priorities of the United States. Although we have an extensive refugee immigration policy and classification system, there are still many problems with refugees currently.
The Refugee Immigration Process:
As I stated earlier, the refugee immigration process is extremely to get through and almost guarantees that all refugees let into the United States will be productive members of American society. There are three classifications for Refugee Immigration. Priority one is for people who have no other option; these people are referred by the UNHCR, or identified by a US embassy or non-government organization. Priority two is groups of “special concern” for the United States. Priority three is people related to refugees who are already living in America(American Immigration Council). Even if you are placed into one of the three categories, it does not guarantee you entrance to the United States. Each refugee must prove they have a “well founded fear” to leave their country, and that it is essential to their safety. There are also grounds for exclusion to protect public safety in America and American values. Grounds for exclusion include: health issues, criminal record, security, polygamy, misrepresentation of facts, smuggling, and deportations(“An Overview of U.S. Refugee Law and Policy”). The belief that refugee screening is not selective enough to protect public safety is ground in prejudice and xenophobia.
I encourage you to take a look at the link I have provided below. There is a five minute video overviewing global trends and many interesting statistics about the conditions and numbers of refugees.
Rally protesting the Muslim immigration ban.
Keith, Stephanie. “Protestors Rally during a Demonstration against the Muslim Immigration Ban at the John F. Kennedy International Airport in New York, January 28, 2017.” WIRED, 28 Jan. 2018.
The current problem with refugee immigration policy and assimilation is the lack of assistance once the refugees arrive in the United States, the attitudes towards them, and the long and tedious process of being accepted into the United States. I think if the refugees received more help from the United States government once they arrived it would help the problem of assimilation. Currently, refugees only receive help(ex. Finding jobs) for ninety days after their arrival to the United States and are expected to have a job within six months(“An Overview of U.S. Refugee Law and Policy”). If refugees are given more help to find jobs and schools they may be able to assimilate to the American lifestyle more quickly. Kids who cannot find a place in school or in another community are more likely to turn to extremist groups and gangs to find a sense of community(Campbell). Extending the period of time refugees receive help could also help with the negative perception of refugees due to gang violence and extremist groups. America has usually extended their help to refugees; however, throughout almost all of American history American citizens have been against the acceptance of a large number of refugees(Krogstad and Radford).
The negative attitudes towards refugees keep on the outside of communities and, as stated previously, can lead to more extremist groups. Extending more services to refugees, like communities where refugees, especially children, could improve their English and learn American societal norms, would help refugees become part of the American culture and feel comfortable. Furthermore, if the politicians and other people in power preached that refugees are welcome in the United States, and that they are no different from people born in America, it would help change the negative connotation many United States citizens associate with refugees. Another issue is the refugee’s experience before being accepted into the United States. The refugee immigration process involves intensive screening and can take up to 18-24 months. It is important to speed up this process, because it is very stressful and people applying for refugee status are already in traumatizing situations. Many of them are forced to stay in that situation during the refugee process. If the system were to become more efficient the refugees would be able to come to safety faster. Although some of these solutions may not be possible, or effective in completely solving the problems surrounding refugee immigration and policy, they would be a step in the right direction.
I hope that after reading this you will understand that even if the current administration is anti-immigration, it does not mean that the conversation surrounding refugee immigration has to stop. It is important for everyone to be aware that accepting refugees is a good thing and that by doing that, we are not endangering lives. It is also important to realize that refugees face prejudice daily and that accepting and being kind to refugees in your community will make them feel for more at home. Refugees have just as much right to the privileges of America as born-and-raised American citizens. Throughout history, american citizens have never wanted to accept a large number of refugees. Let’s change that by welcoming refugees in our communities, attending rallies protesting the immigration ban, and changing our perspective to one of love and acceptance, rather than prejudice.
Campbell, Alexia Fernández. “America’s Real Refugee Problem.” The Atlantic, Atlantic Media Company, 24 Oct. 2016, www.theatlantic.com/business/archive/2016/10/the-challenge-of-integrating-americas-refugees/505031/.
“History of U.S. Immigration Laws.” Federation for American Immigration Reform, fairus.org/legislation/reports-and-analysis/history-of-us-immigration-laws.
Krogstad, Jens Manuel, and Jynnah Radford. “Key Facts about Refugees to the U.S.” Pew Research Center, 30 Jan. 2017, www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2017/01/30/key-facts-about-refugees-to-the-u-s/.
“An Overview of U.S. Refugee Law and Policy.” American Immigration Council, 27 Sept. 2017, www.americanimmigrationcouncil.org/research/overview-us-refugee-law-and-policy.
Press, Associated. “Supreme Court Sides with Trump on Refugee Policy in Travel Ban Case.” The Guardian, Guardian News and Media, 12 Sept. 2017, www.theguardian.com/us-news/2017/sep/12/trump-travel-ban-supreme-court-refugee-policy.
Semple, Kirk. “In New York, With 6 Weeks to Adapt to America.” The New York Times, The New York Times, 25 Aug. 2012, www.nytimes.com/2012/08/26/nyregion/young-new-immigrants-helped-by-the-refugee-youth-summer-academy.html.
Swanson, Ana. “The Refugees Americans Have Fought against over 200 Years.” The Washington Post, WP Company, 20 Nov. 2015, www.washingtonpost.com/news/wonk/wp/2015/11/20/what-refugees-to-america-looked-like-over-the-past-400-years/?utm_term=.b5ce2f860ed3.
“The U.S. Refugee Resettlement Program- an Overview .” Office of Refugee Resettlement, 14 Sept. 2015, www.acf.hhs.gov/orr/resource/the-us-refugee-resettlement-program-an-overview.
Yuhas, Alan. “Trump Administration Set to Admit Far Fewer Refugees than Plan Allows For.” The Guardian, Guardian News and Media, 26 Jan. 2018, www.theguardian.com/us-news/2018/jan/26/trump-administration-refugees-resettlement.