Glossary of Important U.S. Immigration Terms

Asylum Seeker: Someone who is seeking international protection from dangers in his/her home country but whose claim for refugee status hasn’t been determined legally. They must apply for protection in the country of destination, meaning they must arrive at or cross a border in order to apply (IRC).

Asylum Transit Ban: On January 5, 2023, the Biden Administration established a new regulation that sets limits on how many people can seek asylum. It allows entry to 30,000 migrants per month from Cuba, Haiti, Nicaragua and Venezuela provided they have a sponsor already in the U.S. It also states that anyone attempting to cross the U.S. border without first applying for asylum in a country of transit along their journey will be considered ineligible for asylum in the U.S. (Washington Post).

Border Patrol: The mobile, uniformed law enforcement arm of U.S. Customs and Border Protection responsible for securing U.S. borders between ports of entry (CBP).

CBP One App: Created by Customs and Border Patrol, a cellular application created by the government to request an appointment at a port of entry. It is mandatory for asylum seekers to use this application, yet its very limited appointment slots institutes another version of “metering,” which a US federal judge ruled illegal. (HRW)

Child: Every human being below the age of eighteen years unless under the law applicable to the child, majority is attained earlier (majority is the age at which the law recognizes adulthood) (UNCRC).

Country of destination: A country that is a destination for migration flows (European Commission).

Country of origin: A country where someone or something comes from (Merriam-Webster Dictionary).

Country of transit: A country through which migration flows; different from the country of origin, a migrant passes through a country of transit in order to enter a country of destination (European Commission).

Customs and Border Protection (CBP): A branch of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security that is charged with keeping terrorists and their weapons out of the U.S. while facilitating lawful international travel and trade (CBP).

Deadly Deterrence Policy: Known as the “prevention through deterrence” approach to immigration, these policies limit the entry of asylum seekers and migrants at ports of entry and denies them access to the asylum system. This approach forces border-crossers to attempt entering at more remote, dangerous areas along the U.S.-Mexico border where thousands have died on the journey (HRW).

Deportation: The formal removal of a foreign national from the United States for violating an immigration law (USAGov).

Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE): A branch of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security whose mission is to protect the U.S. from the cross-border crime and illegal immigration that threaten national security and public safety through smart immigration enforcement, preventing terrorism and combating the illegal movement of people and goods (ICE).

Migrant: Someone who is moving from place to place (within their country or across borders), usually for economic reasons such as seasonal work. They are not forced to leave their native countries because of persecution or violence, but rather are seeking better opportunities (IRC).

Mixed Migration: Flows of people travelling together over the same routes and using the same means of transport, but for different reasons. The men, women and children travelling in this manner often have either been forced from their homes by armed conflict or persecution, or are on the move in search of a better life (UNHCR).

Operation Lone Star: A deadly deterrence program launched by Texas Gov. Greg Abbott in March 2021, to “combat crime along the Texas-Mexico border and capture more immigrants trying to enter the United States”. Abbot renewed his declared a state of emergency in most Texas counties along the border in May 2023 (ABC). HRW has documented the impact of Operation Lone Star including violations of the rights of migrants and asylum seekers, racial profiling, injuries, and deaths (HRW).

Refugee: Someone who has been forced to flee his/her home because of war, violence, or persecution, often without warning. They are unable to return home unless and until conditions in their native lands are safe for them again. Refugees granted asylum are given protection under international laws and conventions (IRC).

Title 8: A decades-old immigration legislation that outlines the processes for handling migrants at the border and enforcing immigration authority. Under Title 8, border officials can bar migrants who attempt to enter unlawfully from reentry for five or ten year and/or apply for expedited removal process. These penalties were in effect under Title 42 (ABC).

Title 42: A part of U.S. law that deals with public health. It gives the federal government the ability to take emergency action to keep communicable diseases out of the country. President Donald Trump invoked the law in 2020 when the COVID pandemic broke out, allowing migrants to be expelled quickly and without being considered for asylum. The Biden administration has continued to expel migrants under the law. More than 2 million people have been expelled since Title 42 was put into effect. In December 2022, the US Supreme Court upheld the continued legal use of Title 42 for the time being (NBC News, Washington Post).

Unaccompanied Child: A child who has no lawful immigration status in the United States; has not attained 18 years of age; and has no parent or legal guardian in the United States available to provide care and physical custody (HHS).

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