Refugee Act of 1980

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REFUGEE ACT OF 1980. The primary goal of the Refugee Act of 1980 was to bring U.S. law into compliance with the requirements of international law. Though domestic U.S. law has long contained provisions designed to protect certain persons fearing persecution, U.S. accession to the 1967 Refugee Protocol created certain specific legal obligations pursuant to the 1951 Convention relating to the Status of Refugees. Years of controversy about these obligations led to the passage of the Refugee Act.

The act contains a definition of the term "refugee" derived from the 1951 convention. The definition includes, in brief, any person unable or unwilling to return to his or her country because of persecution or a well-founded fear of persecution on account of race, religion, nationality, membership in a particular social group, or political opinion. The definition excludes those who have "ordered, incited, assisted or otherwise participated in [such] persecution." The act sought to prohibit the use of so-called "parole" power to admit groups of refugees, prescribing a complex formula and various procedures for refugee admissions that involves both the president and the Congress. In the late twentieth century over 100,000 refugees were authorized for admission pursuant to the act.

In addition the act permits individuals within the United States and at the U.S. border to apply for "asylum" or "restriction on removal," formerly known as "withholding of deportation." Asylum seekers, among other statutory and discretionary requirements, must qualify under the refugee definition. Applicants for restriction on removal, a form of relief derived from Article 33 of the Refugee Convention ("non-refoulement"),must prove a threat to life or freedom. Both refugees and those granted asylum may apply for lawful permanent residence status after they have been physically present in the United States for at least one year.


Aleinikoff, Thomas Alexander, David A. Martin, and Hiroshi Motomura. Immigration and Citizenship: Process and Policy. 4th ed. St. Paul, Minn.: West Group, 1998.

Gordon, Charles, Stanley Mailman, and Stephen Yale-Loehr. Immigration Law and Procedure. New York: Matthew Bender, 1988; supplemented through 2002.

Musalo, Karen, Richard A. Boswell, and Jennifer Moore. Refugee Law and Policy. Durham, N.C.: Carolina Academic Press, 1997.


See alsoGreen Card ; Immigration ; Refugees .