Why There Are No Refugees From America

This meme showed up on Facebook the other day, and it really got me thinking. Why is it that America houses refugees but never produces them?


The worst crisis to hit this country was the Great Depression. Poverty soared. Crops died. The Dust Bowl left people starving. Yet no one left …

The country, that is. But they certainly left one place for another, such as fleeing Oklahoma for California. Were they refugees? They may not have been called that at the time, but if people flee famine, what else do you call them?

More recently, when Hurricane Katrina devastated the infrastructure of New Orleans, destroying whole neighborhoods, many people fled to Texas and other states.

When news organizations referred to these citizens as “refugees,” a debate sprang up, in the news business if not among the general public. Technically, the word simply means one who seeks refuge. But it was a loaded term then, implying not only poverty and helplessness but also displacement from one’s homeland.

Advocates for the displaced Louisianans said the word was not applicable to someone who was merely relocating within their own country. News agencies finally settled on evacuees as being less inflammatory.

Whatever term you choose, all of these people—our fellow citizens—were forced from their homes, often with nothing but the clothes on their backs. They didn’t flee the country, though. Because where would they go? Mexico? They’d have to go through Texas to get there, so why not stop in Texas?

I think the real reason America doesn’t produce refugees isn’t because we “dust off the guns.” (Seriously, what gun owner do you know who lets their guns get dusty?)

No, the reason we don’t produce refugees is because when things go wrong—even spectacularly, disastrously wrong on every level—we are such a large and prosperous nation that our citizens don’t have to go beyond our borders to get the help they need. Even during the Civil War, a few places in the north and west never saw fighting. And that’s saying something. It’s a luxury of size that few other countries have.

Our prosperity relative to the rest of the world also works in our favor. Farmers who fled the Dust Bowl could still find work in California. We have commerce and infrastructure to support moving goods and people across great distances.

America is a great country. But let’s not kid ourselves, especially just for the sake of a mildly amusing meme. Our strength isn’t in our guns, dusty or not. Our strength is in our size, our prosperity, and our infrastructure. Our strength is in each of us individually, and in how all of us work together collectively.

That kind of strength isn’t broken when it is shared. If anything, it gets stronger still.

About Kristen Stieffel

Kristen Stieffel is a writer and freelance editor specializing in speculative fiction. She's a member of the Editorial Freelancers Association, Christian Editor Connection, and American Christian Fiction Writers.

5 comments on “Why There Are No Refugees From America

  1. I think there’s more to what’s implied here than just guns and shooting, Kristen. We have the power, as citizens in this country, to make things better for ourselves, not just sit on our duffs and expect other people to make it happen. We enforce our own liberty and create our own opportunities.

    A lot of the people who left Louisiana for other places have gone back now. I’m sure there are some transplants who’ve taken root in their new places of residence, but as a country, people pulled together and worked hard to fix the damage Katrina caused. While the government and FEMA threw money at the disaster (a significant amount of which wound up in corrupt political pockets), ordinary citizens from all over the country left their jobs and their families, and went to Louisiana to live in tents while they nursed scraped knuckles and tired backs to help rebuild the neighborhoods that had been flooded.

    FEMA didn’t do that; real people–mostly volunteers not with any government organization–did that. Fleeing the floods was a reasonable thing to do, but so was returning to rebuild and live again in the rebuilt neighborhoods.

    My grandfather had a saying that covers this: “Do it like a Dutchman!”

    He meant by this “put some muscle into it and get it done.” (he was raised German Mennonite) When I read “Dust off the guns and fix it,” that seems to me to be similar in meaning and intent (and not necessarily with violence assumed). Sort of also along the lines of “speak softly and carry a large stick.”

    • Yes, I agree that it’s our collective gumption that gets stuff done. I thing the guns line bothers me because it expresses a very narrow view of problem-solving. Far narrower than what you’ve described.

  2. I just went through this in another context. The sheer size of the US Is such that we ARE analogous to Western Europe. So all this about refugees going from Greece to Germany is like Oklahomans who fled the Dust Bowl for California.

    People forget just how large we are. They also forget that the states have sovereignty.

  3. I live in OKC where Tornados run rampant and destroy infrastructure time and again. In 2013 one of the largest F5 tornados ever recorded destroyed Moore Ok only ten miles south from where we live. Over a thousand homes gone in a matter of minutes with nothing left but a slab of concrete. Sure we had FEMA and the Red Cross and various organizations to assist. But it was the community of people around coming together to help others out, to assist their neighbors, despite their differences. it had nothing to do with dusting off guns because most of those guns- got buried in ruble or blown away.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: