Individuals in Florida seeking to remain permanently in the United States may be eligible to do so as either immigrants or refugees. Although both are terms for people who leave one country to live in another, they describe different situations.
Technically, an immigrant is someone who chooses to move to another country while a refugee is a person who is forced to leave their home country because their life is in danger. However, in practice, the difference between immigrants and refugees is less clear. For example, each year, many people come to the United States from countries such as Honduras or Guatemala because they are fleeing drug-related violence and gangs. These individuals are generally not considered refugees however. In general, to be considered a refugee, a person has to be directly targeted for violence.
Individuals may be targeted due to race, religion, membership in a social group, political opinions or nationality. They may seek refugee status either at the border or once they are in the country. Children now have a special status and are granted automatic hearings to find out if they are in danger rather than being deported or turned away. This is the result of a 2008 law that is part of an effort to stop child slavery.
Immigrants and refugees who may be facing deportation or who want to find out if they are eligible to remain in the country may wish to consult with an attorney. Immigration law can be complex, and many factors determine whether a person may remain including whether they already have family members who are permanent residents. Procedures must be followed carefully so that individuals do not jeopardize their status as asylum seekers or their path to permanent residency or citizenship.
Source: KSAT, “What’s the difference between immigrant and refugee?”, July 15, 2014