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Glossary of Terms

Acculturation: The process of incorporating values, beliefs and behaviors from the host culture into the immigrants’ cultural worldview. 

Alien: A non-citizen of the United States.

Animism: The belief system practiced among many tribal peoples in which all objects, living or not, have a spirit. Furthermore, it is believed that spiritual beings are capable of intervening in human affairs.

Asylum-seeker: A person who has entered the U.S. either legally or illegally and, once here, applies to the INS for permanent residency due to persecution or serious danger in his/her country of origin.

Asylee: A person who is granted asylum is an asylee. Asylum is applied for and granted after entry into the U.S.

Citizen (U.S.): A person born or naturalized in the U.S., owing his/her allegiance to the U.S. while being entitled to its protection.

Culture: A learned set of feelings, ideas, attitudes, beliefs, material traits and behaviors shared among a group of people and reflected in their communication, symbols and social patterns.

Culture Shock: A form of anxiety that results from an inability to predict the behaviors of others or act appropriately in cross-cultural situations.

Diversity Visa Lottery Program: An immigrant visa which is made available through a lottery to people who come from countries with low rates of immigration to the U.S. The State Department’s National Visa Center holds the lottery every year and chooses winners randomly from all qualified entries. Anyone who is given a visa through the program is authorized to live and work permanently in the U.S. Lottery winners will also be allowed to bring their spouses and any unmarried children under the age of 21.

Economic Migrant: A person who voluntarily leaves his/her country of origin purely for economic reasons.

Ethnic Conflict and Civil War (impact on workplace): Refugees who are in the U.S. as the result of civil war, ethnic conflict, or persecution in their native land. Tension and animosities can arise between individuals and groups of refugees as a result of a shared history of conflict in their homeland. One should be aware that a shared language, nationality, or appearance doesn’t always mean a common bond of cultural understanding and/or friendship.

Ethnocentrism: The perspective that one’s own values and way of life are superior to those of groups that are different.

Green Card: The informal name for the card issued as proof of registry as a legal permanent resident of the U.S. It is officially INS Form I-551. The card’s name reflects the fact that at one time its color was green.

Immigrant: A person who voluntarily leaves his/her country of origin and is admitted to the U.S. as a permanent resident.

Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS): An agency of the Department of Justice, responsible for enforcing the laws regulating the admission of foreign-born persons (i.e., aliens) to the U.S. and for administering various immigration benefits, including the naturalization of qualified applicants for U.S. citizenship.

Internally Displaced Person: A person forced to flee his/her home who does not cross an internationally recognized border. This movement may be due to natural or man-made disasters, armed conflicts, or situations of generalized violence. 

Interpreter: A person who accurately facilitates oral communication between two or more individuals who do not speak a common language.

Islam: A major world religion practiced by more than one billion people. Persons practicing Islam are called Muslims. The Qur’an, or Koran, is the Muslim holy book. The five fundamental obligations, or “five pillars,” of Islam are:

  • “There is no god but Allah (God) and Muhammad is his prophet.”
  • Offering of prayer five times every day at dawn, noon, mid-afternoon, sundown and evening.
  • The voluntary giving of alms to the poor and needy.
  • Fasting during the holy month of Ramadan.
  • A pilgrimage, called the hajj, to the sacred monuments of Mecca (in Saudi Arabia) once during one’s lifetime.

Muslims normally congregate on Fridays at noon for a sermon and group prayer. Islamic law prohibits Muslims from eating pork or shellfish, drinking alcohol, gambling, and paying or receiving any form of interest. Accordance with these prohibitions varies depending upon an individual’s level of orthodoxy.

Limited English Proficiency (LEP): The inability to communicate fluently in English, requiring assistance to fully comprehend oral and written English.

Mutual Assistance Association (MAA): A private, non-profit organization operated and managed by a group based on ethnicity and/or national origin that provides cultural and linguistic support services and activities.

Muslim: A person who practices Islam. Muslim is not an ethnic or political identity, but rather a religious one. 

Muslim Prayers: The Islamic practice of praying five times every day at dawn, noon, mid-afternoon, sundown and evening. Before each prayer, Muslims purify themselves by washing their hands, arms, head, face, feet and genitalia. Muslims pray on the ground, using a mat or rug, and face east toward Mecca, prostrating themselves while reciting prayers.

Non-Immigrant: A person given permission to enter the U.S. for a specific purpose and for a limited period of time as a tourist, visitor, and/or student.

Public Assistance: A government entitlement or direct benefit to an individual in the form of cash, services, goods, or tax credits.

Ramadan: The Muslim holy month of fasting, prayer, and religious devotion that is determined by the lunar calendar and can fall during any season of the year. Most Muslims will abstain from eating, drinking any liquid, and smoking from dawn to dusk for 28 consecutive days. Sexual activity is also proscribed. The conclusion of Ramadan is marked by “Id al-Fitr” (feast of bread breaking), a celebration of rejoicing in which new clothes are often worn.

Refugee: A person who has fled his/her own country and cannot return due to a well-founded fear of persecution for reasons of his/her race, religion, nationality, ethnic group, political opinion, or association with a particular group. Refugees are entitled to legally work and receive public assistance in the U.S. and can apply for legal residence after one year. Refugee is a specific immigrant status that is determined before entry into the U.S.

Refugee Experience: There is no typical “refugee experience” that can be generalized, but there is a common truth — a refugee’s life is altered forever. Refugees are forced to leave their homeland and often spend many years in refugee camps. Violence, war, or the fear of persecution disrupts life, splits families, and sends people fleeing for safety. Refugees often suffer severe trauma as well as emotional and physical hardship. They may have witnessed killings, sometimes of family or friends, experienced torture or sexual violence, and lived with the uncertainty of whether they would survive until safety could be reached.

Sponsor: A sponsor can mean: (1) a church group that agrees to assist a newly arriving refugee family to adjust to their new home; (2) one of eleven national Voluntary Agencies (VOLAGS) with which the U.S. Department of State contracts to resettle refugees through affiliated local agencies, often called “National Sponsors;” or (3) a “Local Sponsor” or anchoring relative who has filed papers to bring a family member to the U.S. as a refugee. The INS requires that most immigrant applications have an “Affidavit of Support” filed by the sponsor of the person intending to immigrate to the U.S. This agreement binds the sponsor to support the immigrating individual financially.

Secondary Migrant: An immigrant or refugee who has settled in one location in the U.S. and then relocates to another city or state for reasons that could include family reunification, joining a larger established cultural group, and/or finding employment, educational or economic opportunities.

Supporting Family Abroad: Many refugees and immigrants, both legal and undocumented, leave behind immediate and extended family members. In addition to supporting their families in the U.S., many refugees and immigrants face enormous pressure to provide financial assistance to their family members who remain in their native country or in refugee camps.

Translator: A trained person who accurately produces a rendering from one language to another in a written form.

Undocumented Person: A person who is in the U.S. without being a recognized refugee, immigrant, legal non-immigrant, or asylum-seeker and who does not intend to apply to the INS for permission to reside in the U.S. legally. Sometimes referred to as an “illegal alien.”

Voluntary Resettlement Agency (VOLAG): Private, non-profit organizations that are contracted by the Department of State to settle refugees in a community. For the first 90 days, the voluntary agency arranges for a refugee’s food, housing, employment, medical care, counseling, and other services to help the refugee make the transition to economic self-sufficiency. Minnesota has seven agencies that help resettle refugees.

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