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Immigrant and Refugee Scenarios: An Activity on U.S. Immigration Policy



The following are five fact situations regarding potential refugees and immigrants to the United States.  Please read each one carefully.  Consider the reasons pro and con for the admittance or refusal of each applicant.


SITUATION ONE:  Hassan Moussavi is a 65-year-old Iranian male.  He has been a fundamentalist Moslem his entire life.  He was a devoted follower of the Ayatollah Khomeini and a proponent of the Islamic revolution.  He has never been politically active beyond voting, but he is, in general, pleased with the way his country is governed.  Mr. Moussavi recently became a widower.  His son, Ali, is a United States citizen living in Los Angeles.  Ali wants his father to join him and his family in the United States.  Mr. Moussavi has agreed and wishes to move to Los Angeles.


SITUATION TWO:  Maya is a young Moslem woman from Bosnia-Hezegovina, part of the former Yugoslavia.  Since Yugoslavia was broken up into three separate nations: Bosnia, Croatia and Serbia, terrible ethnic hatred has surfaced.  The Serbians have been systematically killing Bosnian Moslems since 1992.  Maya lived in a small village, which contained a mix of people who had been getting along peacefully for years.  But since the war started, neighbors and friends have turned against each other and Maya's family.


About a year after the war started, some Serbians living in Maya's village decided to go on a rampage.  They came into her home and raped her in front of her husband and small child.  Within a few weeks, Maya risked her life and fled Bosnia in the middle of the night.  She ended up in a refugee camp in Croatia.  In the camp she applies for refugee status in the United States.  She wants to live there because she has heard there is freedom of religion there.


SITUATION THREE:  Collin Peterson is a 35-year-old professor of Physics at Oxford University, a world-renowned educational institution.  Collin has a Ph.D. in Physics and is very well respected in his field.  His current salary at Oxford is about $40,000 a year.  The University of Minnesota has been seeking to improve and expand its physics department.  They were aware of Collin's reputation and think that he will greatly improve the research and teaching capabilities of the physics department.  They are willing to pay him $60,000 a year.  Collin has considered the offer and has agreed to accept--contingent upon being allowed to immigrate to the United States.


SITUATION FOUR:  Joseph is a 15 year old from Liberia in West Africa living in a refugee camp in neighboring Ivory Coast.  In his country, there is great violence from the civil war raging for many years.  His uncle and grandfather are part of the National Patriotic Front of Liberia (NPFL), which is fighting with the United Liberation Movement for Democracy (ULMD), who has now taken over his village. 

In 1990, one of Joseph's neighbors rushed to tell his mother that the ULMD was hunting his uncle and grandfather, and if they found him first, they would kill him.  Joseph's mother packed a small sack and told him to run.  He walked for 12 nights, sleeping in the bush during the day.  He finally made it to the Ivory Coast and entered a refugee camp.  After 3 years there, he still can't track down his family.

  At the camp, Joseph applies for refugee status from the U.S.  He has no papers or record from his life in Liberia.  He has a distant relative in America who is sponsoring his refugee application.


SITUATION FIVE:  The Martinez family is from Cuba.  Mr. and Mrs. Martinez have two young children.  Because of the economic embargo by the United States and other countries, the economy in Cuba has worsened dramatically.  In addition, since the fall of communism in the Soviet Union, Cuba is no longer receiving substantial subsidies for fuel and other necessities.  Mr. Martinez has lost his job because of the Communist government's policies.  His cousin in the United States, who received political asylum five years ago, has written to him that life is good in the United States.  Mr. and Mrs. Martinez feel they must leave Cuba so that they can feed their family.  In addition, one of their children is ill and you can't get good medical care in Cuba anymore.

Mr. Martinez hand made a raft and set out at night with his family for the long ride across the Florida Strait toward Miami.  Just as they see the lights in the distance, they are intercepted at sea by the U.S. Coast Guard.  They bring them to shore where the family asks for political asylum.  They are released to their cousin and are requested to return for an asylum hearing.





Country of origin

Reason for wanting to live in U.S.

Asylum-seeker, refugee, or other?

Your decision

Likely outcome
















































TEACHER’S NOTES:  Results and Reasoning


The purpose of this exercise is to expose students to varying immigrant and refugee scenarios.  The students should be presented the scenarios first with no previous discussion of the actual law.  The goal is to get their gut intuition about who should be allowed in and who should not.  The teacher should make a pro/con column for each situation and write down students' thoughts.  The class should vote on the results.  Then the actual results should be presented along with legal reasoning.  Discussion should center on equities and preferences.


I.          RESULTS


The following are the likely solutions to the above scenarios. 


SITUATION ONE:  Would be allowed to come.  As long as he has not committed any crimes against others due to their beliefs, the fact that he is a fundamentalist has no bearing.  Family reunification is a primary policy of immigration laws.  A U.S. citizen can usually bring their parents with little hassle.


SITUATION TWO:  The Bosnia woman may or may not have been given refugee status in the U.S.  Because she is reluctant to provide any details of therapy, it is difficult for hearing officers to ascertain whether she is telling the truth.  In recent years, the U.S. Departments of State and Immigration have been training women hearing officers to interview refugees who have likely been raped.


SITUATION THREE:  Would be allowed to come.  The immigration laws provide for people with special talents and abilities to immigrate as long as an American business or institution has gotten clearance from the Department of Labor.


SITUATION FOUR:  Probably would not have received refugee status because the refugee could not prove that he was being threatened personally.  But if the hearing officer did research into the town where the refugee is from, they may have found verification of the story, or that incidents of murder were occurring.


SITUATION FIVE:  Would actually not have received asylum status because they do not meet the definition of a refugee.  They are not even claiming that they have a well-founded fear of persecution.  But this refugee would have been allowed to stay in the U.S. because of a special law called the ACuban Adjustment Act.@  This Act states that virtually any Cuban who makes it to the U.S. shores will be allowed to stay because Cuba is Communist and the U.S. has historically fought against Communism.  To stem the flow of the thousands of Cubans taking to the sea over the past summer, the US government agreed to allow another 20,000 Cubans into the U.S. through the Cuban Adjustment Act.


 II.         REASONING:  A Brief Overview of U.S. Immigration Policy



After reviewing the actual results, go back and use the information below to show how these decisions are made.  The goal is to draw a contrast between the initial intuitive reasoning of the students and the actual law.


There are three basic groups in immigration law: Asylum, Family Preference and Labor.  You must qualify under one of these categories to gain status in the United States. 




DEFINITION OF A REFUGEE:  A person who, because of a well-founded fear of persecution on account of race, religion, nationality, membership in a particular social group, or political opinion, are forced to flee the country of their nationality and are unwilling or unable to seek the protection of their government.


Criteria for Refugee or Asylum Status

1.  Do they meet the definition of a refugee?

2.  Are they fleeing because of political, religious, or class persecution?

3.  Is this persecution well-founded, is it personal?  Refugees can't say they heard that some people in their particular group have had problems, or that the government doesn't like people with their views.  There needs to be a specific threat by the government or a group that is well known as persecutors of the refugee's specific class of people.

4.  Is their story credible?  Are they believable?  Are there contradictions in their story?  Have they applied multiple times before?  Is it factually correct?  Do you have a gut feeling that they are telling the truth?




FAMILY PREFERENCE:  One of the main goals of U.S. immigration law is to keep families together.  To that end, relatives of varying degrees are able to sponsor each other to immigrate to the U.S. The closer the family relation, the higher the preference under law.  Therefore, parents and children or spouses are given higher preference than brothers and sisters. 


LABOR NEEDS OF THE UNITED STATES:  Another goal of the U.S. immigration laws is to fulfill the labor needs of the U.S.  To that end, a potential employer must show the following: 1) They have a specific need for an employee, 2) they cannot find a qualified American worker, and 3) the alien they wish to hire meets the employment criterion.  The employer must be willing to pay the standard wage for the occupation, that is, they cannot pay a foreigner less than they would pay an American.  Finally, it is important to note that people with exceptional talent and abilities are given preference.  The more education or experience it takes to do the job, the higher the preference given to the alien that has those qualifications.  Examples can range from senior business executives (many years of experience), nurses (shortage of nurses in U.S.), to scientists and professional athletes (talent and abilities).