Refugees, Asylum Seekers, and other Immigrants: Help for Teachers with Problematic Definitions

Document Type


Publication Date



Refugees, Rhetoric, Migrants, Asylum seekers, Definitions, Media


Purpose: The purpose of this paper is to provide historical and legal definitions for categories of immigrants while helping educators use facts to address their students’ misperceptions about the terms “migrants,” “undocumented immigrants,” “refugees,” “asylum seekers,” and “internally displaced persons.” The 1951 Convention related to the status of Refugees and its 1967 Protocol provided a clear definition for refugees, also used to create the 1980 Refugee Act. However, recent political and media rhetoric have increased public misunderstanding of immigration terms.

Design/methodology/approach: The paper uses over 30 news reports to demonstrate recent perceptions of refugees and other migrants. Other citations provide historical accounts, international documents, and legislation to explain ways in which the USA and other countries have defined refugees.

Findings: Findings suggest ways in which leadership have ignored research by denouncing resettlement in spite of statistics indicating that refugees are not a threat to the American people.

Research limitations/implications: The author’s perspective is as a researcher who has conducted research with resettled refugees for over 15 years. The author’s findings have created a pro-refugee stance.

Practical implications: This paper suggests the importance of exploring multiple perspectives and not settling for the claims of popular media. It also provides information for teachers to provide educational materials about refugees and other immigrants.

Social implications: Readers are called to look beyond popular opinion to consider accurate information about refugees and immigrants. Refugees and asylum seekers flee from terrorism; they are not terrorists.

Originality/value: This paper confronts contentious popular media reporting on refugees and migration. This is especially valuable in the current time, as negative misconceptions about such people abound.

Digital Object Identifier (DOI)


Citation / Publisher Attribution

Social Studies Research and Practice, v. 12, issue 2, p. 113-124

Was this content written or created while at USF?