Refugees, Asylum, and other humanitarian relief.

Many news articles talk about refugees and asylum. Do you know the difference?  This article was written to explain the terminology relating to available U.S. humanitarian relief. I hope that this provides information that will allow my readers to better understand what is happening at this time. 


  • A refugee is a person who has been forced to flee their home country due to persecution because of their race, religion, nationality, political opinion, or membership in a particular social group (e.g., members of the LGBTQ community). The persecution a refugee experiences may include harassment, threats, abduction, or torture. A refugee is often afforded some sort of legal protection, either by their host country’s government, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) or both. In the United States, refugees are hand-selected by the U.S. government and are screened in advance. They are subject to background checks and security screenings by multiple U.S. agencies. Only after everything is approved are they brought to the U.S. to reside permanently


The President of the US has the sole authority to decide how many refugees will be accept each year. For the fiscal year ending September 30, 2023, President Biden  authorized  up to 125,000. The regional allocations and the number actually admitted as reported by the Refugee Council USA ( were:

East Asia15,0006,262
Europe and Central Asia15,0002,765
Latin America/Caribbean15,0006,312
Near East/South Asia35,000 20, 194
Unallocated Reserve5,000

The 5,000 unallocated reserve can be allocated to the other regional ceilings “as needed”  

The 125,000 was not reached. The U.S. actually resettled 60,014 refugees – 48% of the goal.     


Asylum Seeker 

  • An asylum seeker is a person who has fled persecution in their home country and is seeking safe haven in a different country but has not yet received any legal recognition or status. In several countries, including the U.S., asylum seekers are often detained while waiting for their case to be heard. 


Internally displaced person

  • An internally displaced person, or IDP, is a person who fled their home but has not crossed an international border to find sanctuary. Even if they fled for reasons similar to those driving refugees (armed conflict, generalized violence, human rights violations), IDPs legally remain under the protection of their own government – even though that government might be the cause of their flight.



  • A migrant is a person who chooses to move from their home for any variety of reasons, but not necessarily because of a direct threat of persecution or death. Migrant is an umbrella category that can include refugees but can also include people moving to improve their lives by finding work or education, those seeking family reunion and others


Temporary Protected Status (TPS)

TPS  is a status that can be granted by the Secretary of Homeland Security due to conditions in the country that temporarily prevent the country’s nationals from returning safely. Those who are found to be preliminarily eligible are not removable from the U.S., can obtain work authorization and may be granted travel authorization. TPS is a temporary benefit that does not lead to lawful permanent residence status, but it does not prevent one from applying for nonimmigrant status, filing for adjustment of status based on an immigrant petition or applying for any other immigration benefit or protections for which one may be eligible. While this is granted for an initial period of 18 months, it is often extended many times. I have clients who have had TPS so long that they have married and now have adult (over 21 years) children who are U.S. citizens having been born in the U.S. In some circumstances these adult children can petition for permanent residence for their parents. 

TPS is currently available to nationals of Afghanistan, Burma (Myanmar), Cameroon, El Salvador, Ethiopia, Haiti, Honduras, Nepal, Nicaragua, Somalia, South Sudan, Sudan, Syria, Ukraine, Venezuela, and Yemen. 

Humanitarian or Significant Public Benefit Parole for individuals outside the U.S. 

This is a process that allows persons to be admitted to the U.S. for a temporary stay for a wide variety of humanitarian reasons.  These requests may be based on the need to obtain medical care not available in their home country, to be an organ donor to a person in the U.S, to care for a seriously or terminally ill relative in the U.S, to attend a funeral or settle the affairs of a deceased relative  or to participate in civil legal proceedings.  These applications are discretionary and must be well documented. A person seeking parole to obtain medical treatment must document how the cost of the medical treatment will be covered – by insurance, personal funds or otherwise. 


Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA)

This program was established in 2012 to allow people brought to the U.S.  as children to obtain work permission and to be protected from removal for 2 years, subject to renewal. You may be aware of the term Dreamers when thinking of DACA but the term Dreamers often includes people not eligible for DACA. Due to an injunction new DACA applications will not be approved but those with DACA status can still renew their status and continue to obtain work permission.  

Over the years, there have been many proposals to grant permanent status to Dreamers but none of these have been enacted despite having popular support. 


Immigration law has been termed second only to the Internal Revenue Code in complexity. See Baltazar-Alcazar386 F.3d at 948 . This discussion of Humanitarian provisions in the immigration law reflects only a small part of this complex body of law but it is my hope that my readers will now be better able to digest the news regarding immigration issues.

Linda M Kaplan
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