Immigration Refugee Status Not So Easy To Get

A select number of foreign nationals staying in the United States may qualify under a federal refugee status in cases of war or environmental destruction, but that doesn’t mean it’s an easy label for countries to obtain.

Earlier, Colorado Confidential reported that the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) had made the decision to continue refugee status to Salvadoran nationals who were in America before a devastating earthquake destabilized El Salvador in 2001.

It turns out there are numerous bureaucratic steps that need to be taken before a country can be offered federal Temporary Protected Status. “You have to understand the whole country has to be affected,” says Dan Kane, with U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) , an agency in DHS.

According to Kane, first a country must request protected status. Then DHS and USCIS consult with the State Department to determine if the country in question can adequately handle returning nationals.

This means if airports are operating properly, and the majority of the country is untouched by disaster, that a request for refugee status will likely not be permitted.

“The things [the agencies] consider are roads, water, housing, schools, medical health care facilities, transportation, and the breadth of damage throughout the entire country,” Kane says.

Right now Mexico is getting slammed by Hurricane Dean, but according to such criteria, it is not likely that the country will qualify for refugee status if it was requested. Mexico has also never been labeled under such a status.

But if there ever came a day that Mexican nationals in the United States were recognized as refugees, there’s no denying that the immigration debate would change drastically, as any national that could document that they were in the United States before the disaster would be able apply for temporary legalization.

Erin Rosa was born in Spain and raised in Colorado Springs. She is a freelance writer currently living in Denver. Rosa's work has been featured in a variety of news outlets including the Huffington Post, Democracy Now!, and the Rocky Mountain Chronicle, an alternative-weekly in Northern Colorado where she worked as a columnist covering the state legislature. Rosa has received awards from the Society of Professional Journalists for her reporting on lobbying and woman's health issues. She was also tapped with a rare honorable mention award by the Newspaper Guild-CWA's David S. Barr Award in 2008--only the second such honor conferred in its nine-year history--for her investigative series covering the federal government's Supermax prison in the state. Rosa covers the labor community, corrections, immigration and government transparency matters. She can be reached at

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