Refugee Myth Buster No. 1

There is no such thing as an illegal refugee

July 6, 2021

Along with the heat of the summer, this July also brings with it the start of our brand new blog series: “Refugee Myth Busters.” Throughout this series, we’ll identify common misconceptions about refugees and immigrants and provide information that shares the truth about our newest neighbors.

Myth Buster No. 1 — There is no such thing as an illegal refugee

To start off this series, we’d like to begin by defining exactly what it means to be a refugee and debunk the myth that refugees can be illegal.

A refugee is someone who has been forced to flee their country because of war, persecution, or violence.

By definition, refugees do not choose to leave their countries, and environmental factors are what force them to leave their home countries in search of a safer place to live. Because of this, refugees are protected by international law — meaning they have certain rights and protections that are recognized internationally, not just by a certain country. For example, international law forbids governments from returning refugees to their countries or any place where their lives or freedom would be threatened because of their race, ethnicity, nationality, or social opinion. Most human rights laws apply to refugee law.

This means that legally, countries are obligated to protect refugees, making sure their rights are respected.

Additionally, refugees have to follow a certain process in order to obtain refugee status, including background checks, interviews, and screenings. In order to become a refugee in the U.S., individuals have to register with the United Nations and undergo an interview before they are granted refugee status. After that, they go through a lengthy screening process full of interviews with State Department officials, multiple fingerprint screenings, and security checks with various U.S. and government agencies. There’s no way to become a refugee without going through this process.

Refugees who come to the U.S. must also go through the process of becoming permanent residents. After one year of living in the U.S., refugees must begin applying for their green card, which will grant them permanent residency and a path toward citizenship.


For many refugees and immigrants, their dream is to eventually become a U.S. citizen. One of our mentees and interpreters, Lina, achieved her own dreams by becoming a citizen in 2018 along with her husband Manuel, five years after they arrived in the U.S. as refugees from Namibia.

“When I got the citizenship, I was very happy,” Lina says. “I knew that other things were going to change.”

You can hear more of Lina’s story in the video above.

Becoming a refugee is oftentimes a long and complicated process, and it’s easy for misconceptions like this to overshadow the truth about our resettled neighbors. Part of our mission at Hello Neighbor is to create an inclusive and welcoming community for refugee and immigrant families, and by debunking these myths, we hope to enlighten and empower you to do the same!

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