Since the release of the documentary "Nickel City Smiler" in 2010, a film that chronicles one brave Burmese family’s fight for survival and hope in the American Rust Belt, interest in issues surrounding refugee resettlement in the Unites States of America is on the rise. While many documentaries and other information sources have attempted to increase public awareness as it pertains to refugee resettlement in America, many people remain unaware of the poverty and hardships refugees face upon arrival in the United States.
According to international law, refugees are defined as being outside their home country while having a legitimate fear or persecution due to religion, race, nationality, political opinion, or membership in a particular social group. As seen in "Nickel City Smiler," there is a significant difference between the terms immigrant, refugee, and asylee. Immigrants are people who choose to leave their homes and come to the United States on their own free will on different types of visas and for different reasons such as to study, to work, or to live with family members. Refugees and asylees are terms used for those who are forced to flee their home countries due to persecution, such as those in the movie "Nickel City Smiler."After one year of residing in the United States, refugees and asylees may apply for permanent residence within the Unites States, and after five years may then apply for American citizenship. The main difference between refugees and asylees is that refugees receive permission to resettle in the US after landing in the country, whereas asylees receive permission before they actually arrive.
A formal US refugee resettlement program was created in 1980, and since then over 1.8 million refugees have entered the United States. Usually between 40,000 and 75,000 refugees are accepted per year to live in the United States through the Refugee Resettlement Program.
According to the UN Refugee Agency approximately 35 to 40 percent of refugees in the US are children. About 95% of those children are fortunate enough to resettle with their parents; however the remaining 5% are not. Those children must either resettle with relatives or responsible adults in the US.
A non-profit organization called the Unaccompanied Refugee Minor Program takes the refugee children who do not have homes or an adult to stay with in the United States, and are placed into specialized foster care. Approximately 100 to 200 children use this service each year, and often these children are never reunited with their biological families.
While the documentary "Nickel City Smiler" has drawn attention to the refugees and asylees within the United States, there is still a significant lack of awareness. Many Burma documentaries have tried to increase awareness around issues in Burma, however this is the first movie which has documented a Burmese family’s struggle as refugees within the US. In order to help spread the word, anyone who has seen the Nickel City Smiler is encouraged to tell their family and friends about it in order to help increase awareness around the issue by sharing the official Nickel City Smiler website (http://nickelcitysmiler.com).