Thursday, June 21, 2018

Two words

Definitions from Merriam-Webster:

migrant: one that migrates: such as
a : a person who moves regularly in order to find work especially in harvesting crops
b : an animal that shifts from one habitat to another

refugee: one that flees; especially : a person who flees to a foreign country or power to escape danger or persecution
Which word more accurately characterizes people leaving Central America and seeking asylum in the United States?

I started to type fleeing for leaving before realizing that I was giving away my answer to the question. We are prosecuting refugees.

comments: 6

Chris said...

All of these words are so loaded with associations and assumptions. "Migrants" is a term you don't hear much anymore, in part because the US government cracked down on cyclical migrant labor and in effect forced migrants to become undocumented immigrants (since they knew they couldn't necessarily return to the States if they went home). Douglas S. Massey of the Mexican Migration Project has described how "shifts in U.S. immigration policies transformed a circular flow of male workers from Mexico going to a few states into a settled population of families living in 50 states, including 11 million undocumented people." (

People who were left homeless after Katrina sometimes took strong objection (rightly or wrongly) to being referred to as "refugees" (

Jeff Sessions has deemed that people fleeing domestic violence aren't entitled to "refugee" status. If they're not refugees, what are they?

Only in our nasty political moment could "immigrant" be considered a slur.

Michael Leddy said...

“If they’re not refugees, what are they?”: exactly. I started thinking about how often I’ve seen migrant in the Times. And then last night I watched The Other Side of Hope and wondered why the word refugee Is not used more often.

I remember the word refugee after Katrina. And then there’s Woody Guthrie: “I’m a Dust Bowl refugee.”

Daughter Number Three said...

As you probably know, the UN uses refugee for a person fleeing who crosses an international border, while people fleeing within their country of origin (as with people after Katrina) are called internally displaced people (IDPs, of course, because everything needs an initialism or acronym).

Michael Leddy said...

Thanks, DN3. I know that refugee doesn’t really apply to people within their country. But I did want to add the Guthrie reference. I made this post out of the feeling that migrant, the word I hear again and again on the news, doesn’t do justice to the human situation.

Anonymous said...

The constellation of issues is most thought-provoking. It suggests that if there are so many abusive governments that action against these governments to topple them for the sakes of the victims of government where they are is a possible alternative, and one which has been offered by both parties over the years. From massive sanctions to even military action could be "on the table." The basic problem is one of who leads. But to deal with an increasing flow of those fleeing their abusive and dysfunctional governments without significant action against those governments is no real solution. I watched a demonstration by a group from Burkina Faso demanding "action" from a host nation's government. I asked why they were not involved in their own land with active opposition or even revolution, my questions were greeted with disdain. For too many, the answer will always remain. Let someone else do it. The naiveté of not acting in a more forceful manner suggests at least to me that many have become so opposed to "involvement" in another nation's ills that one is left with doing nothing and then complaining about it.

Michael Leddy said...

I’m not sure that overthrowing governments (in countries where the United States already has a long history) is the answer to the problem of refugees seeking asylum. But I am sure that the crisis at the border and the language that accompanies it (“animals,” “infest”) are designed to gin up the most racist and xenophobic people in our country.