The difference between refugees and immigrants? ‘Refugees are the unwanted’

Earlier this week, federal judges in Hawaii and Maryland blocked President Donald Trump’s updated travel ban, which would have temporarily barred citizens from six Muslim-majority countries, as well as halt refugee resettlement in the U.S. Mr. Trump’s attempts to pause the influx of refugees comes amid a historic migrant crisis affecting both the Middle East and Europe. From Syria alone, 5 million people have fled the country since the civil war began, and millions more are displaced inside the country.

On the arts desk, we often find that geopolitics and art intersect, and they do in Viet Thanh Nguyen’s new book of short stories “The Refugees,” which explores the aspirations and heartbreak of immigration and refugee life, as countries around the world debate whether or not to take in migrants. Nguyen himself came to the U.S. from Vietnam as a refugee with his family in 1975.

Nguyen recently sat down with NewsHour arts correspondent Jeffrey Brown to discuss what it means to be a refugee today, and how that differs from being an immigrant. Here’s what he had to say:

To be a refugee, especially in our contemporary moment, is to be different than an immigrant. Immigrants are somewhat acceptable to Europe and the United States. But refugees are the unwanted from wherever they come from and they’re often unwanted where they come to. And especially in the United States, Americans think it’s un-American to be a refugee. So it’s actually really important to me to assert, “I am a refugee, I write about refugees,” and that we need to think about the necessity of opening our doors and welcoming refugees in…

I think immigrants do feel some of that attachment to wherever they came from but they usually made a choice to go somewhere and they’ve decided to look forward, to some extent. But refugees are often compelled to leave by violent circumstance. They’re really still attached to wherever they came from, but they’re often times looking backwards. So that’s where I think refugees often times have a hard time adjusting at least psychologically. They may adjust culturally and economically but psychologically half of them is still somewhere else.

Watch the full interview above.