Since the Refugee Act in 1980, the US has accepted over 3.8 million refugees and asylum seekers.
It’s not uncommon for people to leave their home countries for a range of reasons. This is often to pursue a better life and escape political, social, or economic issues. Many people (especially from countries in Central America and the Caribbean) choose to seek asylum in the USA.
If you’re wondering how you can go about this, keep reading.
What Is Asylum?
Asylum allows people to enter countries other than their own, generally as a matter of safety. It’s typically granted to those who suffer from some sort of persecution in their own country. Some common reasons for this include:
- Social affiliation
- Political opinion
Following World War II, seeking asylum became a part of international law. Someone who may be unsafe in their own county and can’t find reasonable protection there may be granted asylum somewhere else to keep them safe.
An asylum seeker can be from any country and any demographic, but it’s most commonly people from countries that are suffering from conflict, political unrest, or other types of disasters.
Once someone is granted asylum, they’ll be permitted to work and travel abroad. They may also apply for their immediate family members to join them (spouse and children under 21 years of age).
Is Seeking Asylum Legal?
It’s perfectly legal for someone to seek asylum, but it needs to be done in the right way. There are various rules for asylum seekers, and if these aren’t followed, there can be legal issues.
Firstly, it’s important to know that someone can only apply for asylum while in the US or at a port of entry. This means it can’t be done in advance from another country.
There are different processes that someone can follow when seeking asylum. Before getting started, you may have a lot of questions about immigration, so it’s important to do your research so that you know what you need to do.
How to Obtain Asylum in the USA
Following immigration rules is crucial for anyone who’s seeking asylum. There are three methods of obtaining asylum in the US depending on your circumstances.
Affirmative Asylum Process
You can apply via this method as long as you’re present in the US, regardless of how you got there. You need to apply within 1 year of your arrival date, but may be exempt from this if you can show that your circumstances changed, affecting your eligibility for asylum. You can also show proof of extraordinary circumstances that prevented you from filing earlier.
Under these circumstances, you still need to file within a reasonable amount of time based on your situation. To start the process you need to submit Form I-589 (Application for Asylum and for Withholding of Removal) to USCIS (US Citizenship and Immigration Services).
You’re allowed to remain in the US while your I-589 form is being processed. If for whatever reason, you’re found ineligible, your I-589 will be passed on to an immigration judge. You can still stay in the US while your form is pending.
Applying for asylum can get very complicated. You can find a step-by-step guide on applying through the Affirmative Asylum Process on the USCIS website.
Asylum Merits Interview
This is a process you can go through if you express that you have a fear of persecution, a fear of torture, or a fear of returning to your country. It involves being placed in expedited removal proceedings. You can then apply for asylum.
If this happens, you’ll be referred for a credible fear screening with the USCIS. During this, you’ll have a credible fear screening interview with a USCIS asylum officer. They’ll then determine if the fears expressed are credible.
If the outcome is that the officer finds your fears to be legitimate, there are two potential outcomes.
The USCIS will keep your application and reconsider it. You’ll also have a second interview (an Asylum Merits Interview) in which they’ll also look at whether you’re eligible for withholding of removal and protection under the CAT (Convention Against Torture).
An asylum officer will decide your eligibility for asylum. They may also determine your eligibility for withholding of removal or protection under CAT if needed.
The USCIS will issue a notice indicating that you need to appear before an immigration judge. This judge will then consider your eligibility for asylum, withholding of removal, and CAT protection.
After filing an I-589 form, you’ll be placed in the “defensive” asylum process. You can find more information about this process on the USCIS FAQ page.
Defensive Asylum Processing
This process happens if you request asylum to prevent removal from the US. If you’re already in removal proceedings in immigration court with the EOIR (Executive Office for Immigration Review), you can request asylum, starting the defensive asylum process.
If the USCIS determines you’re not eligible for asylum, they may refer you to an immigration judge for this process. It can also happen if you arrive at a point of entry without the required legal documents or if you’ve violated your immigration status.
Alternatively, US CBP (Customs and Border Protection) may apprehend you at the border if you try to enter without proper documentation. They might place you in the expedited removal process and if they find that you have a credible fear of persecution or torture in your home country, they can start this process.
Your case will go before an immigration judge who will determine your eligibility for asylum. If they find you ineligible, they may consider other processes you could use to avoid removal, and if you’re not eligible for any of these, you’ll be ordered to leave the US. In this situation, you’ll be able to appeal the judge’s decision.
Seeking Asylum in the USA
If you’re seeking asylum in the USA, it’s important to follow the correct processes and stick to immigration rules. This will help ensure a smooth process and that you remain eligible.
For more legal articles, check out some of our other blog posts.