Fleeing Their Culture

By Wayne Lutton
Volume 7, Number 4 (Summer 1997)
Issue theme: "The abuse of asylum and refuge"

The United States has, from time to time and in select cases, provided a safe haven for individuals genuinely subject to persecution by the government of their homeland. But not all fleeing oppression in foreign lands have been made welcome. Refugee admissions did not really become a public policy concern until the World War II era and the subsequent onset of the Cold War. Such refugees and Displaced Persons who were admitted arrived under special legislation aimed at addressing special circumstances. There was no intention of permitting any and all who might wish to come to the United States to do so.1

A popular misperception is that the U.S. has a long "tradition" of admitting endless streams of refugees. In fact, it was not until 1980 that Congress enacted a specific Refugee Act. This law accepted the United Nations Organization definition of a refugee, namely a person living outside of their homeland who is unable or unwilling to return to that country because of a well-grounded fear of government-sponsored persecution due to the individual's race, religion, nationality, membership in a particular social group, or political opinions.

For the sake of law, definitions are important. Refugees are persons living outside of the U.S. who have a "well-founded fear of persecution" and who apply for refugee status. Asylees are persons already in the U.S., or who have just arrived at a port of entry, who claim that they will be subjected to persecution and oppression should they be forced to return home. They apply for asylum.

Wayne Lutton, Ph.D., a policy analyst and historian, is associate editor of The Social Contract and

co-author with John Tanton of The Immigration Invasion (The Social Contract Press, 1994, 192 pages, $4.95. Call 1-800-352-4843). The drafte