With thousands of men, women and children headed toward our Southern border, many will be seeking asylum in the United States. This is an entirely legal process, and the U.S. pledged in the 1951 UN Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees to accept eligible asylum seekers and a share of qualifying refugees. That treaty, commonly called the 1951 Refugee Convention, also prohibits the U.S. from returning refugees and asylum seekers to the countries they fled from.

The United States grants asylum only to people who are seeking protection due to a credible fear of persecution due to:

  • Race
  • Nationality
  • Religion
  • Political opinions
  • Membership in a particular social group

There is no fee to file for asylum, but asylum seekers do need to file a form I-589, “application for asylum and withholding of removal,” within a year of their last arrival in the U.S. Also, there are some circumstances in which the asylum seeker may be barred from receiving asylum, such as when the person has participated in persecution, engaged in terrorist activity, committed a “particularly serious crime” or poses a risk to the United States. You may also be ineligible if you have been resettled in a third country before coming to the U.S.

When an asylum seeker arrives at the U.S. border or an international airport, they typically surrender themselves to U.S. Customs & Border Protection. An asylum file is then created and the asylum seeker is generally booked into immigration detention until they get to the first step in the asylum process — the “credible fear” interview with an asylum officer.

During this interview, the asylum seeker must demonstrate a credible fear of persecution based on one of the five protected grounds listed above. Poverty or economic distress are generally not grounds for asylum.

If the hearing officer finds the asylum seeker does have a credible fear of persecution, the asylum seeker might, but won’t necessarily, be released from detention while they await the finalization of their asylum application. If asylum is granted, the seeker and any family members included in the application will receive green cards (lawful permanent resident status) a year from the date of their approval.

If the hearing officer finds that the asylum seeker’s persecution claim is not credible, the asylum seeker is entitled to a hearing before an immigration judge. However, if the judge also finds the claim is not credible, the immigrant will be deported and barred from returning to the U.S. for five years.

If you are seeking asylum in the U.S., the Yew Immigration Law Group may be able to help you. We have years of experience handling asylum and other U.S. immigration cases.