What is a Refugee? Definition and Meaning

According to the Department of Homeland Security, a refugee is someone who flees their home country because they fear persecution based on religion, race, nationality, political opinion, or membership in a particular social group (Refugees and Asylees, 2018). Refugees apply for asylum to another country to find a new place to live; the current legislation and policies make it difficult for one to be granted asylum in the United States. Furthermore, the United States government should take the current humanitarian crisis in the Northern Triangle (Guatemala, Honduras, and El Salvador) seriously and act immediately through granting asylum.

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Asylum seeking policies

The Immigration Act of 1980 places a formal process for refugees seeking asylum. The refugees walking through Mexico can apply for asylum affirmatively. When seeking asylum affirmatively, refugees can be at a port of entry (Refugees and Asylees, 2018). Asylees must also apply to United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) within one year of their arrival. The asylee must complete an I-589 Application, which asks a series of questions like why they are seeking asylum, whether they have faced harm, mistreatment, or threats or fears harm or mistreatment in their country of residency (I-589, Application, n.d., pg. 5). To receive asylum, refugees must receive a favorable grant from an asylum officer when applying affirmatively (Refugee Admissions, 2018).

There are three possible solutions for asylum applicants: being denied, local integration, or resettlement in another country. If the refugees’ story is not credible they are denied and will returned home. Often, stories are perceived as not credible due to the institutional differences between formalized American bureaucracy and informal processes of underdeveloped or developing countries (Recker, S., 2010). So the bureaucrats who must evaluate claims based on strict guidelines and standard operating procedures cannot grant asylum if certain events are not formally documented. Or, immigration officials lack understanding of the wrath of the asylum-seekers problems, leading to massive miscommunications (Recker, S., 2010).

According to the United States Department of Justice, on November 8th, 2018 Trump proclaimed an Interim Final Rule issued under section 212(f) or 215(a)(1) of the Immigration and Nationality Act (DOJ and DHS Issues New Asylum Rule, 2018). This proclamation declares that people who enter the United States through the southern border with will be rendered ineligible for asylum (DOJ and DHS Issue New Asylum Rule, para. 3, 2018). This means that anyone seeking asylum from southern boarder will not be granted such. If this proclamation sought legislation, it would overhaul the longstanding asylum laws. Nevertheless, under the Refugee Protocol, the United States has assumed a legal obligation to examine the claims of asylum-seekers who reach United States territory without discrimination based on race, nationality, or religion (Legal Obligations, 1991).

Why do people from the Northern Triangle asylum to the United States?

El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras suffer large refugee outflows due to organized crime (Cantor, D., 2016). The two most prominent gangs in the Northern Triangle were formed mostly by criminal deportees from the United States, who brought the vicious territorial gang culture of California with them. The gangs flourished and grew in result of an absence of a strong state authority, along with a lack of economic opportunities for youth in the fragile post-conflict territories. The number of gang members in the Northern triangle are estimated in the tens of thousands. The gangs achieve social control through killing residents who are perceived as resisting their authority (Cantor, D., 2016).

Furthermore, the Northern Triangle holds the highest annual rates of recorded femicides and child/adolescent killings in the world (Cantor, D., 2016). In El Salvador, official statistics suggest that around two-thirds of the many homicides registered in 2015 were committed by gang members. The governments’ approach in the past decade to subdue the gangs with a ‘firm hand’ has been unsuccessful. In 2014, approximately 174,000 citizens were displaced, about 7.5% report being displaced twice, and 2.1% report being displaced three times (Cantor, D., 2016). Overall, the epidemic of organized criminal violence, combined with the inability to provide effective response to victims by authorities, has produced a humanitarian crisis that forces high rates of displacement in the Northern Triangle.


Through the United States legal obligation, the claims of asylum seekers must be considered. Although the President proclaimed that the refugees walking through Mexico will be turned away, that illegal and unethical. The rhetoric of Trump’s claims are terribly dangerous for people actual believe him without fact checking, especially considering the seriousness of the issue because people’s lives are at stake. The law clearly states that asylum seekers can seek asylum affirmatively at a port of entry when the ask for asylum. The United States government should further consider the humanitarian crisis that the Northern Triangle is currently in. Overall, the people walking through Mexico are refugees and have a right for their claims to be considered.

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What is a Refugee? Definition and Meaning. (2019, Jul 26). Retrieved February 6, 2023 , from

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