WHAT IS POLITICAL ASYLUM?
Many people every year come to the United States seeking political asylum because they have experienced persecution or are afraid that they will be persecuted due to their ethnicity, religion, nationality, membership in a particular social group, or political opinion.
If you are a foreign national, and if you fear persecution in your homeland or if you have been persecuted in the past and now wish to be safe from that threat in the future, you may apply for political asylum. If your application is approved, you may apply for permanent residence in the United States.
If you are eligible for political asylum in the U.S., you may be permitted to stay. To apply for asylum, file Form I-589 within one year of your arrival in the U.S. It is free to apply for political asylum.
Even if an asylum applicant entered the U.S. illegally or is in the U.S. on an expired visa/I-94, they may still apply for asylum. After their petition has been pending for 180 days, they may apply for a work permit.
You can also include your spouse and children in the United States on your application, whether or not they are present when you file. If your child is married or over 21, they must apply separately.
HOW TO QUALIFY FOR POLITICAL ASYLUM
You will be required to convince the asylum officer or immigration judge that you are afraid, have good reasons to be frightened and that someone else in a similar situation would also be scared.
For most people seeking asylum in the United States, it is necessary to present documentation showing that you have been persecuted or fear persecution in your home country.
Persecution can mean that you have suffered, or will suffer, physical or emotional pain or that your freedom was or will be revoked in any other way. If you are fearful of returning home due to persecution by a group or organizations controlled by the government, some organizations can help you.
For someone to persecute you, they must be persecuting you based on one of five reasons:
- If you demonstrate as a student, are active in labor unions, or are a member of political parties or the government, you may be persecuted for your political opinion. In some cases, you can be victimized even if you have no political views. The persecutor might think you have a particular political opinion because of your activities, associations, or your family background.
- If you're banned from practicing your religion or being persecuted for your beliefs, you may be able to apply for asylum. Many religious workers and Christian Based community members have been granted asylum.
- People are often persecuted because they belong to a particular social group. That means people who share specific characteristics—age, a place where they live, family, ethnic group, race, nationality, gender, or community—may be targeted for discrimination and violence.
- Skin color, race, or nationality may be one reason why a person is persecuted.
- Recently, the courts have added a new ground for granting asylum based on sex, including the practice of female genital mutilation in the applicant's home country.
Suppose you plan to claim political asylum in the United States because you are being persecuted. You will most likely not win if your persecutors are doing so only for personal reasons. However, if you believe that those persecuting you have many reasons for doing so—one of which may be personal—you might obtain political asylum.
Your testimony, if believed by the immigration judge (or INS asylum officer), can be enough to prove your case. However, documents and independently verifiable information are always helpful to show that at least parts of your story are genuine.
For instance, you may want to show student identification cards, letters from a religious organization or another group with whom you've worked, and newspaper articles about you, your family, or your town.
To prove your case for political asylum, you will need to attend a hearing in front of an immigration judge. The purpose of this hearing is to explain why you fear returning to your home country and help the immigration judge decide if you qualify for political asylum.
Your immigration lawyer and the lawyer representing the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) will be at the hearing to represent your interests. The judge will decide whether you will be granted asylum if they feel that your reason to fear persecution in your home country is valid and that your fear is real (that somebody else in a similar position could feel the same way).
HOW TO APPLY FOR POLITICAL ASYLUM IN THE U.S.
These are the steps to follow if you apply for asylum in the U.S. through the affirmative asylum process.
If you apply for political asylum, you cannot be granted asylum if you have persecuted someone else because of that person's political opinion, membership in a social group, religion, race, or nationality.
If you've ever been convicted of a crime, you may be ineligible to receive political asylum. Always check with a lawyer who specializes in asylum to determine your eligibility
Step 1: Arrive in the United States
You must be physically present in this country to be able to apply for asylum.
Step 2: Apply for Asylum
If you want to apply for asylum, file Form I-589, Application for Asylum and Withholding of Removal, within one year of your last arrival in the U.S. If you qualify for an exception to the one-year filing deadline, you can still get asylum if you file within a reasonable time after the exception applies to you.
If you do not file this form within one year of your last arrival, were previously denied asylum by an immigration judge, or can be removed to a safe third country until an agreement between the U.S. and other countries, you may not be eligible to apply for asylum.
If a person's circumstances change, or if they can show that they acted reasonably in the face of extraordinary circumstances, they may be able to get their bars lifted.
After USCIS has received your completed application, you will receive two notices: a notice that your application has been received and a notice to visit a fingerprinting location.
Step 3: Fingerprints and Security Checks
You must bring the ASC Appointment Notice to your fingerprint appointment. There is no fingerprinting fee for asylum applicants.
If you are requesting asylum status for your spouse and children, they must accompany you to your ASC appointment.
Step 4: Receive an Interview Notice
USCIS will contact you for an interview at a convenient location, whether it's one of the eight asylum offices, the two asylum sub-offices, or at a USCIS field office. The notice of your asylum interview will tell you the date, location, and time of your interview.
Step 5: Complete Your Interview
You may bring an attorney or accredited representative to the interview; however, your spouse and any children seeking derivative asylum benefits must also be present. If you are not fluent in English, an interpreter will be required to proceed with the interview. The interview will usually last about an hour. You may also bring witnesses to speak on your behalf if you wish.
Step 6: Determination of Eligibility & Review
To be eligible for asylum, you must demonstrate that you meet the definition of a refugee in section 101(a)(42)(A) of the INA. The asylum officer will also decide whether you are barred from being granted asylum by section 208(b)(2) of the INA.
A supervisory asylum officer will review the decision of the asylum officer to ensure it is consistent with the law. The supervisory asylum officer may refer the case to headquarters staff for additional review, depending on the circumstances.
Step 7: Receive Decision
After you have completed the interview and your asylum case has been prepared by the asylum officer; you will be given two weeks to return to the asylum office to pick up the decision.
If you currently hold a valid immigration status, were interviewed at a USCIS field office, have pending security checks, or have a case reviewed by asylum division staff at USCIS headquarters, processing times may take longer than normal.
For these situations, USCIS will normally mail your decision to you.
After your petition for asylum has been approved, you are officially an asylee. You may adjust your status to permanent resident (a Green Card) and later obtain U.S. citizenship.
If you are denied asylum, the judge will not necessarily order you to leave the United States immediately. You may be given time to leave, or you can file an appeal; appeals take one to four years. While you wait, you'll be permitted to stay in the United States with authorization to work (a "work permit"). But you cannot travel outside the United States.
If your asylum application is denied, you can appeal to an immigration judge and will have another opportunity to prove that you have a well-founded fear of persecution.
YOUR IMMIGRATION LAWYER
Your immigration lawyer will help you tell the judge why you are afraid to return to your home country. You and your lawyer will have prepared an application and a declaration for the judge to read. Your immigration lawyer will help you present your story to the immigration judge most convincingly. In court, this is called the direct examination. The direct examination happens when your lawyer asks you questions, and you answer them for the judge. They will base these questions on what you've said in your Form I-589 application for asylum and during interviews with your lawyer.
THE USCIS LAWYER
The USCIS lawyer will ask you questions right after your lawyer finishes asking you questions. The USCIS lawyer will try to show that you don't qualify for asylum. They will try to confuse you, show that you are lying or being inconsistent, or come to the U.S. to make money, escape military service, or for some other reason, instead of because you feared being persecuted. You and your lawyer will practice how to answer these questions before the hearing so that you are used to them. After USCIS asks their questions, your lawyer will have another chance to ask more questions, and then USCIS gets another chance.
To help you understand the questions and the answers better, an interpreter will translate any questions that lawyers and immigration judges ask you in your language and translate your answers into English. The interpreter may be able to help you read any documents you are given for your hearing.
Before your hearing, practice with an interpreter to be sure to use a helpful one at the time of your hearing. If possible, limit what you say to just a few sentences at a time, pausing between them; this makes it easier for the interpreter to interpret accurately.
THE IMMIGRATION JUDGE
When an asylum officer for the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Service (USCIS) has denied your application for political asylum, you will go before an immigration judge. He will want to be sure that you are telling the truth about why you are afraid to return to your home country.
Be sure to look the judge in the eyes once in a while and act natural, believable, and confident. It's also important not to look down at the floor while answering his questions.
Toward the end of your hearing, the immigration judge may ask more questions or even interrupt someone else's question-asking to ask one of his own. If he grants you asylum, one year later, you can apply for a green card that shows that you are eligible to live permanently in the U.S.
WIN YOUR U.S. POLITICAL ASYLUM CASE
If you think you or a close relative may qualify for political asylum, consult an attorney who specializes in asylum law. Winning your political asylum case is no easy task, but you can do it with the help of an attorney who understands U.S. immigration and nationality law and political asylum.
People you know, your relatives and co-workers, can give you bad advice regarding immigration and nationality law. It costs very little to consult with an immigration lawyer to get a legal opinion on whether you are eligible for political asylum. Such advice and guidance are usually worth much more than what you pay for them.
If you have questions about the asylum or immigration process, contact the Law Office of Keshab Raj Seadie, Esq. today.