Immigration is about immigrants, and immigrants are a certain kind of people based on their action of migrating. The term migrant can be understood as “any person who lives temporarily or permanently in a country where he or she was not born, and has acquired some significant social ties to this country.” For some, this definition may be too narrow when considering that, according to some states’ policies, a person can be considered as a migrant even when she/he is born in the country. When migrants arrive at the border with the intent to enter another country, they are immigrants. An immigrant is a person who enters a country with the intent to reside indefinitely or permanently in that state in which he or she is not a citizen. Persons who come as tourists or for short visits or limited work assignments are not immigrants. They can, however, change their intent after entering and become immigrants whether legally or illegally. Immigrants are either “documented,” also called “legal immigrants,” or are without lawful and documented authorization and are thus not lawful immigrants, commonly called “undocumented” or “illegal immigrants.” This latter term should not be used, because no person can be called illegal, which implies a criminal act or criminalization of a person. Being in the U.S. without legal status may or may not be the result of a criminal act. The exclusion or removal of aliens from the U.S. is a civil administrative matter and not a criminal matter.
Migrants are people who make choices about when to leave and where to go, even though these choices are sometimes extremely limited or even coerced.
The definition of migrant in international law is broad. This broad definition of migrants reflects the current difficulty in distinguishing between migrants who leave their countries because of political persecution, conflicts, economic problems, environmental degradation, or a combination of these reasons, and those who do so in search of conditions of survival or well-being that does not exist in their place of origin. The definition also attempts to define migrant population in a way that takes new situations into consideration.
The U.N. Convention on the Rights of Migrants defines a migrant worker as a “person who is to be engaged, is engaged, or has been engaged in a remunerated activity in a State of which he or she is not a national.”
America has many migrant workers. The need for laws applicable to them is obvious.
Globally, the issue of migrant workers has become so serious that the international community has adopted a human rights treaty seeking to protect their rights.
It is important not to confuse the terms immigrants, aliens, migrants, and refugees. They are not the same. In United States law, a refugee is defined as “any person who is outside any country of such person's nationality, or in the case of a person having no nationality, is outside any country in which such person last habitually resided, and who is unable or unwilling to return to, and is unable or unwilling to avail himself or herself of the protection of that country because of persecution or a well-founded fear of persecution on account of race, religion, nationality, membership in a particular social group, or political opinion … .” This is similar to the international definition found in the 1951 Refugee Convention, below:
A person who meets those criteria is known as a convention refugee, as opposed to a non-convention refugee, such as a person fleeing a civil war. Most persons one sees on television reports are not convention refugees, especially if they are fleeing generalized violence. They may still need legal protection but not under the refugee/asylum legal framework.
In a non-legal sense, a refugee is a person who flees from his country to another, seeking safety and protection from the things from which he fled (persecution, civil war, poverty). A person is seeking refuge from harm. For the conventional refugee, the harm is the violation of his or her human rights by his or her own government that is supposed to be protecting and respecting the human rights of its citizens.
Most often, refugee is used in the United States to describe someone who is seeking asylum in the United States. Asylum is legal protection offered by one country to someone who fled from another country because of persecution, and who meets all the criteria of the status of refugee. Refugee in this sense is a legal status. In order to receive asylum in the United States, a person first has to meet the criteria of being a refugee under U.S. law.
This LibGuide is not being met to offer legal advice or services, but it is a reference for educational and informational purposes only. Individuals seeking legal advice and services should consult with a reputable and appropriately credentialed legal counsel.