What is the distinction between ‘refugee’ and ‘immigrant?’

Great question! This deserves its own post in addition to being answered on the FAQ page.

The answer is provided by Joe Johns:

Many people don’t see a distinction, however there is a significant distinction resulting from the fact that immigrants have a choice and refugees don’t. Immigrants freely choose to retain or reject citizenship of their homeland whereas refugees are forced to flee their country of origin to save their lives. Although a refugee is still legally a citizen of the country he or she flees, technically it means very little because their homeland affords them no protection, a central concept of citizenship.

Understanding this helps USA-born Americans distinguish the refugee resettlement issue from however they might feel about immigration policy in general, much less illegal immigration. Having said that, what’s good for refugees is often good for immigrants—particularly if the immigrant is seeking political asylum.  So there is common ground between the two when the immigrant is a political asylee as opposed to someone with some means simply trying to better his or her economic situation in America.

— Joe Johns is director of Missional Living at Fellowship Missionary Church and a board member of The Reclamation Project, both in Fort Wayne, Indiana.


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