Answer: Both refugees and asylum-seekers are requesting to remain in the U.S. because they have been persecuted or fear they will be persecuted on account of race, religion, nationality, and/or membership in a particular social group or political opinion. Refugees seek protection from outside of the US. Their status is granted before they enter the US, and they have a sponsoring agency to assist in their resettlement. They receive a refugee visa while they are outside the US, which gives them the right to enter the US and receive services from the sponsoring agency for a period of time. Refugees sometimes are McKinney-Vento eligible, if they meet the definition of homeless.
Asylum-seekers present themselves at the border, or at an immigration office (in person or by filing paperwork), and request asylum. They have to go through a legal process before they are granted asylum. Ultimately, few will be granted asylum. Again, asylum-seekers can be McKinney-Vento eligible, if they meet the definition of homeless.
When youth enter the U.S. on their own, they usually do receive a health screening and immunizations, and then they are placed somewhere by the Office of Refugee Resettlement— which is confusing, because they are not actually refugees. Most of these youth are McKinney-Vento unaccompanied homeless youth. Children who are taken into custody by immigration authorities receive health screenings and immunizations prior to being released to a sponsor or foster family. Some information about this is available here.
According to the World Health Organization, most foreign countries have immunization rates that are similar to the United States. Country-specific immunization information is available from the WHO:
Also, here is an FAQ from the U.S. government regarding children who come through immigration processes:
“Q: Do these children pose a health risk?
A: The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention believes that the children arriving at U.S. borders pose little risk of spreading infectious diseases to the general public. Countries in Central America, where most of the unaccompanied alien children are from (Guatemala, El Salvador, and Honduras), have childhood vaccination programs, and most children have received some childhood vaccines. However, they may not have received a few vaccines, such as chickenpox, influenza and pneumococcal vaccines. As a precaution, ORR is providing vaccinations to all children who do not have documentation of previous valid doses of vaccine.
Children receive an initial screening for visible and obvious health issues (for example: lice, rashes, diarrhea, and cough) when they first arrive at Customs and Border Protection (CBP) facilities. Onsite medical staff are available at CBP facilities to provide support, and referrals are made to a local emergency room for additional care, if needed. Children must be considered “fit to travel” before they are moved from the border patrol station to an ORR shelter.
Children receive additional, more thorough medical screening and vaccinations at ORR shelter facilities. If children are found to have certain communicable diseases, they are separated from other children and treated as needed. The cost of medical care for the children, while they are in ORR custody, is paid by the federal government.”
Anyone physically present in the US has the right to attend school here regardless of immigration status— refugees, asylum seekers, undocumented youth, etc. Public schools cannot ask families or youth about their immigration status. Also, the McKinney-Vento Act applies equally to students from other countries. If they are experiencing homelessness, they have the right to enroll in school, which includes full participation, immediately. It is not different because the family or youth is coming from another country.
This document on our website has some resources that might be helpful.