We read a book this semester by Jo Ann Koltyk entitled New Pioneers in the Heartland.  This book was about Hmong refugees residing in Wisconsin, who they are, and their experiences in the United States. In one chapter, Koltyk described the Hmong’s refugee camp experience.  She calls it “the second major phase in the experience of many refugees,” the first major phase being their traumatic escape.  I revisited this chapter in my mind as I was interviewing Deng.  He had been to three different refugee camps.  I wonder if the major phases theory would still work in his case.  Escaping from Bor would undoubtedly be his first major phase – like the book describes.  Entering the Panyidu (the first refugee camp) I would again agree would be his second major phase, but when the Sudanese boys are forced to flee from Panyidu, would he be considered back to phase one?  This book just really made me think about how different refugees from various countries really are.


            Then, I started pondering the differences between refugees and immigrants.  I came to my own conclusion that refugees, like Deng, and immigrants share some similarities, but also some differences as well.  Here are some examples that I concluded of how they are both the same, and different:


How they are the same: 1. Why they left their country and came to the US.

While their reasons for coming to the United States may seem entirely different, the underlying cause is actually very similar.  Disposable Domestics, a book about the un-rewarded work immigrant women perform and how they are actively resisting the exploitation that they face, Grace Chang writes about the push-pull theory as to why immigrants leave their homelands. She states that the push-pull theory “proposes that factors such as high unemployment in sending countries act as a push and perceived opportunities in receiving counties serve to pull migrants from [their homelands] into the [new county].  This push-pull theory of migration can also apply to refugees.  The fear of persecution and war in their homeland serves to push them out of the country, and asylum in the new county pulls them in.


How they are the same: 2. Fitting-in. 

The Sudan refugees continuously spend time with their new neighbors in America.  They go to school or to work, and will maintain contact with their new American friends.  According to an article about the issues of immigrants and how it effects the United States entitled The New Immigrants, by Charles S. Clark, “ fifty-eight percent of immigrants who have been in the United States less than 10 years report that they spend time with few or none of their fellow countrymen.  Yet, the article continues to say that a large number of immigrants also feel that it is important to blend into American culture.


How they are different: 1. Definition

The article by the US Committee for Refugees entitled Evolution of the Term-Refugees, first defines the term refugee and then discusses the definition.  The definition they use is how international law defines this type of people: “A person with a well-founded fear of persecution on account of race, religion, nationality, membership in a particular social group, or political opinion, who is outside the country of his or her nationality and is unable or unwilling to return.” 

A legal immigrant is defined by United States law as: “An alien who has been granted the right by the USCIS to reside permanently in the United States and to work without restrictions in the United States. Also known as a Lawful Permanent Resident (LPR).”

Though these definitions are definitely arguable, based on international and United States law, this is how these types of people are defined.


How they are different: 2. Laws. 

According to a handout about refugees issued by the International Rescue Committee (IRC), immediately after a refugee's arrival, the IRC will help the refugee apply for an Employment Authorization Document.  This document is an INS-issued document that refugees need to show potential employers to prove that they are authorized to work in the United States.  A year after arrival, the IRC will help the refugee apply for a green card, and applications for citizenship are allowed only five years after a refugee arrives.  This is unlike immigration law.  For an immigrant, visa numbers are limited by law every year. This means that even if the USCIS approves an immigrant visa petition, the immigrant may not get a visa number immediately. In some cases, several years could pass between the time the USCIS approves the visa petition and the State Department provides an immigrant visa number.  After an immigrant finally receives their green card, they must wait another five years to file an application for citizenship.  Then, on average, it takes between 6 and 9 months to become naturalized. 

Crossing the Valley

Read the Interview