Terms You Should Know about Refugees


A person who is not a citizen or national of the United States.


An alien who has received permission to remain in the United States based on a "well-founded fear of persecution" should the alien return to the native land. A prospective asylee applies for this permission from US soil, unlike a refugee, who applies from abroad. They must demonstrate that they meet the statutory definition of "refugee".

Country of First Asylum

The first country to which a person fleeing persecution goes to once they have left their own country. For individuals coming to the US, this may be a processing site where they are screened and provided health services and basic English language training prior to US entry. For Cubans and Haitians, the US has often been the country of first asylum.

Cuban-Haitian Entrant

An immigrant status created by Presidential order in 1980 for the 150,000 Cubans and Haitians who entered the country that year in a massive boat lift to Florida. As allowed by the Fascell-Stone Amendment, the term continues to be used to describe Cuban and Haitians applying to stay in the US through other than refugee, immigration and tourist/business channels.


Return of undocumented aliens found in the US to their country of origin or formerly legal resident aliens whose status has been revoked by the United States government. The country of origin must be willing to accept the individual being deported.

Derivative Refugee Status

The spouse or child of a refugee is entitled to "derivative" refugee. This relief requires only one family member to qualify for refugee status rather than each member of the family. Physical admittance to the US of derivative refugees is, however, dependent on the actual entrance of the primary refugee. In other words, derivative refugees cannot enter the US prior to the arrival of the status generating refugee.

Domestic Assistance

Federal programs that provide cash and medical assistance as well as social services to individual refugees and entrants.

Humanitarian Parolee

An alien, appearing to be inadmissible to the inspecting INS officer, allowed to enter the US under emergency (humanitarian) conditions.


The Immigration and Naturalization Service control document that records each alien's arrival and departure from the United States. It identifies the period of time for which the alien is admitted and the alien's immigration status.

Illegal Alien

A foreign national who (a) entered the US without inspection, (b) entered with fraudulent documentation, or (c) who, after entering legally as a nonimmigrant, violated status and remained in the US without authorization.


In INS terminology, an alien admitted to the United States as an actual or prospective permanent resident; an alien with the right to eventually obtain citizenship. In common language, an alien living here permanently.

Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS)

The federal agency under the United States Department of Justice that administers immigration law.


The process of stopping and boarding unflagged vessels on the high seas by the US Coast Guard as authorized by Presidential Executive Order. They are stopped to determine if their passengers are undocumented aliens bound for than US, and if so, to return such persons to their country of origin, if they have been determined not to have a plausible claim to asylum.

Lawful Permanent Resident (LPR)

A person who is here permanently and qualifies as a refugee, asylee, or immigrant, or who has been granted amnesty other than suspension of deportation. In short, an alien who has been lawfully afforded the privilege of residing permanently in the US.

Mutual Assistance Association (MAA)

A non profit organization comprised of at least 51% refugees or former refugees who provide service to incoming refugees.


The process of becoming a United States citizen by means other than birth.

Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR)

The federal agency that is responsible for the national administration of refugee assistance programs (primarily domestic assistance).


An alien who has been given permission to enter the United States under emergency conditions or when that alien's entry is considered to be in the public interest. A parolee is generally not eligible to apply for permanent resident status or to become a naturalized citizen. Exceptions to this result from either, specific legislative provisions made for their class or legally changing their status from parolee to one from which permanent residency may be acquired.

Permanent Resident Alien

An immigrant legally authorized to live and work in the United States indefinitely, who may eventually apply for citizenship.

Port of Entry

The city where aliens first arrive in the US. Aliens meet with the INS and pass through an inspection at a Quarantine Station, which is run by the Centers for Disease Control, located at the port of entry. There are currently 9 ports of entry into the US and they are located in: Boston, Chicago, Honolulu, Los Angeles, Miami, Newark, New York City, Seattle, and San Francisco.

Public Charge

An alien who is unable to demonstrate the ability to become self-sufficient and may be disqualified from obtaining legal residency.

Quarantine Station

An agency, which is part of the Public Health Service under the Department of Justice of the federal government, that checks immigrants, including refugees, to the United States for any communicable diseases. The agency also examines any cargo into the United States for communicable diseases.


An alien defined by INA as: (a) 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, or (b) in such circumstances as the President after appropriate consultation (as defined in section 207 (e) of this Act) may specify, any person who is within the country of such person's nationality or, in the case of a person having no nationality, within the country in which such person is habitually residing, and who is persecuted or who has a well-founded fear of persecution on account of race, religion, nationality, membership in a particular social group, or political opinion.


The voluntary or involuntary process of returning illegal immigrants to their country of origin.

Safe Haven

A camp located at the Naval Base in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba and another located in Panama. The safe havens are tent cities set up to house interdicted refugees from Cuba and Haiti.


A term used in referring to a person or organization that assists an applicant's admission to the United States by guaranteeing support for the applicant during the initial three years in the country

Unaccompanied Minor

A minor is considered to be accompanied unless he or she has been identified as an unaccompanied minor requiring foster care upon arrival in the US. This is evidenced on a Voluntary Agency Form 1 indicating assurance of sponsorship by an agency providing such care. The cost of state care of unaccompanied refugee minors is 100% reimbursable from the federal government.

Undocumented Alien

A foreign-born person who is not known to the immigration authorities because they secretly entered the United States without permission.

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