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Beyond the Rhetoric

Part 2 in the Seeing Beyond the Immigration Rhetoric series

Immigration has become a heated topic; most of us have formed strong opinions on the subject. It is also a complex topic, encompassing a wide swath of issues, laws, and legal statuses, as well as court orders and rulings that seem to change on a regular basis. This creates an atmosphere in which discerning fact from fiction can be frustratingly difficult.

In my work at a refugee resettlement agency and as a regional immigration organizer with the Office of Social Justice, I want to share some facts and information I’ve learned.

Refugees and those Granted Asylum are Legal Immigrants

The term “refugee” denotes a legal status given to someone by the United Nations that meets the following definition: “someone who has been forced to flee his or her country because of persecution, war or violence. A refugee has a well-founded fear of persecution for reasons of race, religion, nationality, political opinion or membership in a particular social group (1).”

Upon receiving this status, a refugee must go then through a 18-36 month screening process before being cleared to enter the United States.

A refugee must go then through a 18-36 month screening process

And that is merely after being selected for resettlement in the United States. As is common for refugees awaiting resettlement, a family that our agency works with arrived in December 2017 after having previously spent 17 years in a refugee camp.

Likewise, for any immigrant that has received asylum status, an immigration judge or officer has deemed that the person meets the legal definition of a refugee. Both refugees and those granted asylum are fully authorized to work.

Immigrants are Good Neighbors

Much rhetoric lately has centered on the idea that immigration poses a physical danger to the United States. The reality, however, is that immigrant communities, on average, have lower crime rates than non-immigrant communities. Among those ages 18-64, the incarceration rate for U.S. citizens is higher than both documented and undocumented immigrants (2). Likewise, of the 3 million people that have entered the country as refugees since 1980, none have ever carried out a terrorist attack (3).

Immigrant communities, on average, have lower crime rates

In fact, one thing I’ve learned through my work is how valued refugees are to employers at airports, precisely because they have gone through the refugee screening process and will pass the thorough background check required to work there. If you’ve ever flown on a commercial airline, you’ve put far more faith in the refugee screening process than you may realize.

Immigrants Benefit the Economy

The Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates that between 2014 and 2024, economic growth will generate 9.8 million jobs. During the same time period, the current labor force is expected to grow by only 7.9 million people (4).

In addition to comprising a needed component of the American workforce, immigrants are also job creators. One out of every ten American workers is employed by an immigrant-owned business (5).

Resettling refugees also benefits the government financially. An internal study by the Department of Health and Human Services found that between 2005 and 2014, refugees contributed  $63 billion more in government revenues than what they received in government benefits (6).

Through my job, I see how immigrants are valued contributors to businesses and our economy. I am contacted on a weekly basis by companies reaching out to find hard working, quality employees. They know that immigrants have often had to overcome significant obstacles to reach this country, and are therefore driven to succeed and capable of working through adversity. They are people like my friend from Venezuela, who has a doctorate in education. Since receiving asylum, he has worked as a custodian and in retail.

Immigrants Are Made in the Image of God

Immigrants, like native-born Americans, are fellow human beings whose worth is defined not by their legal status or country of origin, but rather by their status as image-bearers of our Creator. When debating various immigration policies and their pros and cons, it can be easy to forget that the subjects of our discussion are not simply numbers but people: neighbors, co-workers, church members, fellow image-bearers.

Immigrants, like native-born Americans, are fellow human beings

When formulating our views on immigration (or any other issue), facts matter. As the church, we are called to love our neighbor and put the needs of others before our own. With a solid grounding in the facts, we must think through how our views, actions, and the policies we support affect our fellow image-bearers.

(1) USA for UNHCR: The Refugee Agency. “What is a Refugee.” USA for UNHCR, 2018.
(2) Walter Ewing, Daniel E. Martínez, and Rubén G. Rumbaut. “The Criminalization of Immigration in the United States.” American Immigration Council. July 13, 2015.
(3) Nowrasteh, Alex. “Syrian Refugees Don’t Pose a Serious Security Threat.” Cato Institute. November 18, 2015.
(4) “Labor Force Projections to 2024: The Labor Force is Growing, but Slowly,” Bureau of Labor Statistics, December 2015,
(5) Robert W. Fairlie, “Open for Business: How Immigrants are Driving Small Business Creation in the United States,” Partnership for a New American Economy, August 2012,, 3.
(6) Julie Hirschfield Davis & Somini Sengupta. “Trump Administration Rejects Study Showing Positive Impact of Refugees.” Sept 18, 2017.


Photo by Eidy Bambang-Sunaryo on Unsplash

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