Immigration Law: What is Asylum?

The topic of immigration is very much in the news these days, and particular attention is being paid to the subject of asylum. Asylum in the United States has long been an option for people seeking an escape from oppression of all types, whether it is based on their race or ethnicity, their religion or gender, or their politics. Asylum seekers from other countries have been able to come to the United States and, once here, request asylum within one year of their arrival, or can apply for asylum if they have been found to be in the country illegally and threatened with removal. These two different approaches are known as affirmative and defensive asylum.

When a person applies for asylum in the United States, they attest to having actually experienced “harm or mistreatment or threats” or fearing that they would either be subject to them if they are forced to return to their home.  Asylum seekers are able to provide evidence to support their claim to asylum officers, who are able to either grant them the status that they seek or if they do not believe the claim, will refer them to an immigration court for a removal hearing. At that hearing, an immigration judge will hear their plea and make the final decision as to whether they can remain in the safety offered in America.

Proving that a plea for asylum is authentic requires the asylum seeker to demonstrate their need to escape based on one of the following five issues: their race, their religion, their nationality, their membership in a particular social group, or the political opinions that they hold. The last of these two can be difficult to prove, and in recent days there have been far fewer applicants for asylum granted the status that they seek. This has been true despite expansions in recent years of what characteristics can be defined as membership in a social group to include ethnicity or membership in a tribe, being a member of a social group, or sexual preference.

Once a person is granted asylum, they and any family members who have entered the country with them can stay in the United States and are able to petition to bring other family members in as asylum seekers too. They can also apply for their green cards and eventually for citizenship.

For more information about asylum and other immigration law issues, contact the attorneys at Jensen Bagnato!