In Print: Volume 89: Number 6
By Jessica Mayo
89 Wash. U. L. Rev. 1485 (2012)
In the late 2000s and early 2010s, anti-immigrant rhetoric rose on a tide of fears about the U.S. economy. Nativist narratives inspired by rising unemployment dominated an increasingly antagonistic debate about U.S. immigration policy. Restrictive state laws, most notably those found in Alabama and Arizona, and a movement to ban birthright citizenship became hot political topics that sent some Republican and Tea Party politicians scurrying to claim the positions their constituencies demanded.
But as popular concern regarding “illegals” dominated the discussion, federal immigration policy continued on, misunderstood and excluded from the highly political sound bites that shape public opinion. Most political rhetoric involves immigration from Mexico. Unbeknownst to many of those most passionate about immigration issues, people of Hispanic origin make up about 15 percent of the U.S. population, and only about 6 percent of the Hispanic population in the United States is foreign-born. Those who are not foreign-born are U.S. citizens. Many of those who are foreign-born have legal status in the United States. Of the immigrants filling our land with different tongues and cultural diversity, most came legally as family-sponsored immigrants, as holders of employment-based visas, or, as this Note discusses, as refugees and asylees.
Over 73,000 refugees settled in the United States in 2010. The refugees had the necessary paperwork to legally immigrate to the United States after having been determined by the United Nations to be a victim of persecution. The vast majority of these immigrants were resettled from refugee camps to which they escaped after fleeing war, unrest, or other forms of persecution in their own native country. Similarly, those seeking asylum come to the United States after having suffered persecution but without formal recognition of their status. They arrive either under a temporary visa or without documentation and then seek recognition from the U.S. government that they are victims of persecution and qualify as asylees.