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Defining a "refugee"

Many in Yuma may hear the word "refugee" and immediately envision hordes of impoverished people crowded into planes or on boats rapidly embarking on precarious journeys away from their countries of origin. While many in this scenario may fit the definition of a refugee, the definition itself is not limited to one's socioeconomic status. In reality, people from all walks of life can become refugees, and their status in the United States in protected by the principle of asylum. 

How does one qualify to be classified as a refugee? According to the U.S. Immigration and Nationality Act, a refugee is one who is outside of their country of origin and is unwilling to return to (or avail themselves of the protection of) said country for fear of persecution due to any of the following: 

  • Race
  • Religion
  • Nationality 
  • Political opinion
  • Association with any particular social group

Women who fear being compelled to either undergo involuntary sterilization or an abortion also qualify as refugees under the category of fear of persecution based on political opinion. The status of refugee can also be applied to people inside of their countries of origin who have the aforementioned if such status is granted by the President. 

International law (as well as domestic policies) mandate that asylum be granted to those qualifying as refugees who are either currently in the U.S. or seeking entrance at a U.S. port of entry. Per the American Immigration Council, one can apply for permanent residency status after one year of being deemed a refugee. Even during that initial waiting period, refugees granted asylum can enjoy benefits such as healthcare through Medicaid or protected travel overseas. They can also seek residency protection for their spouses and any unmarried children under the age of 21. 

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