Understanding Migration: A Glossary

The words we use to talk about immigration and migration are terms whose meanings have changed over time and whose connotations are influenced the political and cultural contexts in which they are used. The following glossary is meant to encourage reflection on these words, while recognizing the many ways that individuals choose to identify with or challenge these meanings.

Citizen A citizen is a person legally recognized as a subject or national of the state, and is entitled to the rights of, and protection from, the state.

DACA The Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program is an American immigration policy that allows some undocumented individuals brought to the country as children to receive a renewable, two-year period of deferred action from deportation and eligibility for a work permit. Recipients are referred to as DACAmented.

Emigrant Someone who has left their country to settle in another. The word emigrant is used in reference to the country from which people leave, whereas immigrant or immigration is used in reference to the country in which one settles.

Expatriate/Expat A person who resides outside their native country, usually by choice. Many expatriates are also immigrants.

Immigrant Someone who leaves their native country to permanently settle elsewhere, or whose ancestry includes recent generations moving from one country to another.

For example:

First Generation: Born in one country but residing in another.

Second Generation: Native-born children of foreign-born (first generation) parents.

Migrant A person who moves from one place to another, often to find work. Some migrants move by choice, others are displaced or forced from their homes by resource insecurity, violent conflict, war, or the effects of climate change—such as rising sea levels, drought, or extreme weather. Many migrants stay within the country in which they originally lived.

Refugee/Asylum Seeker A displaced person seeking international protection. Refugees are asylum seekers that have been granted legal protection. According to the United Nations, “[a] refugee is someone who has been forced to flee [their] country because of persecution, war or violence. A refugee has a well-founded fear of persecution for reasons of race, religion, nationality, political opinion or membership in a particular social group.” Most refugees stay close to the region from which they were displaced.

Temporary Protected Status or TPS TPS is a temporary immigration status in the United States. It is granted when the Secretary of Homeland Security believes that the conditions within a country prevent people from returning safely. United States Citizens and Immigration Services may grant TPS to eligible nationals of certain countries (or parts of countries), who are already in the United States.

According to the USCIS:

The Secretary may designate a country for TPS due to the following temporary conditions in the country:

      • Ongoing armed conflict (such as civil war)
      • An environmental disaster (such as earthquake or hurricane), or an epidemic
      • Other extraordinary and temporary conditions

Undocumented A person living in a country without recognized legal documentation allowing them to reside legally within that country

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