Asylum is an immigration benefit that allows people to live and work lawfully in the US if they meet certain refugee criteria found under federal law. Asylum can be granted to those who have been persecuted, or have a well-founded fear of persecution on account of their race, religion, nationality, membership in a particular social group, or political opinion.
You’ve seen the news about foreigners spilling across the borders, forced to leave their countries because of persecution. You know that U.S. immigration law allows people fleeing persecution to file for asylum in America, but you’re not sure how it works or whether your situation qualifies. Before you break out your suitcase and head for the airport, here are five common myths about asylum — debunked!
1) I can get asylum if I’m being pursued by a gang or other criminals.
While seeking protection from threats is indeed one reason people flee their home country and seek permission to remain in America, many people who think they qualify don’t understand the difference between being persecuted by criminals or being threatened with criminal prosecution—which could land you in jail—and being prosecuted by a nation-state for specific crimes.
“People say, ‘I’m in fear of the gangs, they’re going to kill me,'” says Anne Richard, assistant secretary of state for population, refugees, and migration at the U.S. State Department. “We try very hard to explain that asylum is not for criminal prosecution.”
You can seek protection from persecution by criminals under U.S. law through a different process—by applying for temporary protected status (TPS), which is available to people already in America who cannot safely return home because civil strife or natural disasters are keeping them from their native land. But TPS doesn’t provide any path to permanent residency or citizenship; it’s just designed to keep you safe while you remain in the United States.
2) I’ll go to the end of the line if I lose my case.
You can certainly apply for one of the forms of protection that will let you remain in the United States while your deportation case goes forward—but don’t expect to jump ahead of other asylum seekers or immigrants with pending petitions. For example, if you win asylum but then request withholding of removal based on a fear of returning to your home country, you still have to wait behind people who already applied for withholding before you did, despite having won an earlier status-based “priority date.” In fact, even though DHS designated January 1, 1990, as a priority date to determine which cases would qualify under its new rules covering spouses and children of people who had won asylum in the United States, that date only applied to those who filed their withholding applications after November 1, 1997. Even if you win your case for asylum or withholding or Convention Against Torture protection, the U.S. will not just open up its borders and let you skip to the front of the line—you could still be waiting behind others who applied earlier than you did.
3) I’m not sure I’ll be persecuted if I go home; maybe it’s safe now.
Even if you can’t qualify for asylum, you may still be able to return home—if the dangers have subsided enough to let you safely travel back. That’s why the U.S. government encourages people to seek out “post-flight determinations” that evaluate whether it is safe to return after being granted asylum, through either parole or withholding of removal. This process grants at least temporary permission to stay in America while your native country organizes the paperwork needed for you to come back and file full asylum claims from home. But don’t leave without checking first! If you are already here in the United States, DHS will not let you board a plane unless you can prove that you have this permission.
I am from another country in Central America-I don’t need asylum
Even though violence against women is pervasive throughout all of Central America, it is often its worst there because of high levels of poverty, inequality, and corruption. Women who are raped, for example, maybe unable to report it because they fear retaliation by their attackers or even arrest by corrupt police forces—much less actually be heard. Further, women who fight back against domestic violence face stigmatization not only by family members but sometimes their own governments as well. While these problems affect both sexes throughout the region, females are particularly at risk because men hold the majority of leadership positions in all branches of government, which means that whatever laws it enacts will be enforced unequally based on gender. This is why so many families leave not just out of fear—but out of desperation—when even one parent (or another older member) can make a credible claim to have experienced persecution. Fortunately, the United States has a generous policy of allowing victims of such persecution to resettle here if they can prove their case—and it does not matter where in Central America they may have originally come from.
4) I have family members in the United States who will help me.
Having family or other connections in America does not automatically make you eligible for asylum. In fact, it probably counts against you: If your relatives are willing and able to assist you financially and emotionally, they can also be asked to sponsor your application from abroad. That means that a relationship with a U.S. entity—whether a person, an organization, or even a state government—is considered evidence of your ability to resettle successfully without needing federal assistance. DHS officers assume that people with international support networks don’t need asylum protection as much as those who lack such ties, so having those kinds of contacts causes doubt about whether you really face a serious threat.
5) I won my case, so now I’m a legal immigrant.
Not necessarily. You could be allowed to remain in the country as a “parolee” for humanitarian reasons. This doesn’t mean you have been granted a green card, but it does mean you may be able to stay if you can convince officials that your presence is justified for emergency or other humanitarian reasons. Be aware that even if your application is approved, this permission to stay temporarily does not guarantee future entry into the U.S., and any subsequent request for readmission will still require normal immigration requirements to be met—just like everyone else’s. In rare cases, an alien who is removed from the United States via deportation proceedings may reenter immediately upon winning his case, but only if DHS did not appeal and the Board of Immigration Appeals (BIA) orders reopening and remands.
For more information, you may ask or consult with Houston immigration lawyers.