Asylum Seekers in the US-Mexico Border
Migrants expecting to cross the border in Arizona. AFP

NEW YORK - A record number of immigration along the southern border was reported this past December in the United States. Roughly 300,000 migrants, an all-time monthly high that likely included record numbers of families traveling with children, are on track to be processed into the system, CBS News reports.

The remarkable number follows years of crisis along the border that has left countless of migrants in a legal limbo, increased tension between the American political parties and prompted lawmakers to consider drastically limiting asylum, positioning itself as one of the major issues that will be debated in this upcoming 2024 presidential election.

But what happens once these immigrants get to the United States? While the answer may be highly complicated and it could vary on a case-to-case basis, the reality is that these immigrants crossing the border undocumented, or coming into the country through other legal means have the option to apply for political asylum.

To learn more about this process, below is a comprehensive guide on how to apply for asylum in the United States, including who might be eligible for it and how to fill out Form I-589.

What is asylum and Who is Eligible?

Asylum in the United States is a form of protection which allows for an individual to remain in the country instead of being removed or deported to their homeland, where the applicant fears persecution or harm.

In this process, persecution refers to threats of harm to you or your family or to people familiar to you. Asylum is granted only to people who have been persecuted or harmed because of their race, religion, nationality, political opinion (or a political opinion someone thinks you have), or the fact that you are part of a "particular social group."

If granted asylum, the applicant will be able to work in the U.S., help family members seek asylum, and apply for permanent residency (Green Card).

To be eligible, applicants must be in the United States and be able to determine they were persecuted or have fear of persecution in their home country.

It is important that seeking and/or being granted asylum differs from a refugee status. A refugee is someone who has been resettled to the United States through the U.S. resettlement program, a separate process than asylum. In other words, a refugee applies for protection while overseas and enters the U.S. as a refugee, while an asylee requests protection and is granted asylum within the U.S.

How to Apply for Asylum in the United States

To apply for asylum in the United States, the individual must be in the country and file Form I-589, the formal application form for withholding deportation, within one year of arrival to the U.S.

Once the application is received, you will be referred to the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services department (USCIS) for a credible fear screening, where an asylum officer will conduct a credible fear interview to determine whether you have a credible fear of persecution or torture.

If the officer finds this to be positive, then you will be scheduled for a second interview, known as Asylum Merits Interview or issue a notice to appear before an immigration judge with the Department of Justice's Executive Office for Immigration Review (EOIR).

How to Fill Out Form I-589

If you are eligible to apply for asylum with USCIS, you may file Form I-589 online or by mail depending on the case.

Some of the reasons for online application ineligibility include being or previously being an unaccompanied alien child (UAC), you were previously in removal proceedings but your case was dismissed or terminated or more.

To apply by mail, USCIS office addresses vary depending on where you live and whether you are subject to special instructions.

How to Prepare for the Asylum Interview

On the day of your Asylum Merits Interview you should bring:

  • A form of identification, including passports, travel or identification documents, and Form I-94, if you received one when you arrived in the U.S.
  • The originals of any birth certificates, marriage certificates, or other documents you previously submitted with your Form I-589.
  • A copy of your Form I-589.
  • Additional items you have available that document your claim and that you have not already submitted with your application.
  • An interpreter if you do not speak English.
  • Spouse or children under 21 that were included in your application.
  • A certified translation of any document that is not in English.

How to Handle the Credible Fear Screening

A credible fear of persecution or torture is a "significant possibility" that you can establish in an Asylum Merits Interview before an asylum officer or in proceedings. While there are no bars to establishing a credible fear, there are mandatory bars to asylum and withholding of removal.

If you are scheduled to a credible fear screening, you will receive an orientation to the credible fear process, a list of free or low cost legal service providers, a waiting period of at least 24 hours after your arrival at a detention site before taking part in the interview, and the opportunity to waive the 24-hour waiting period.

How to Apply for a Green Card and Citizenship as an Asylee

After asylum in the United States has been granted, asylees may apply for lawful permanent resident (LPR) status after they have been physically present in the U.S. for at least a year.

To apply for a Green Card as an asylee, you must:

  • Properly file Form I-485.
  • Be physically present in the U.S. at the time you file the Form.
  • Been physically present in the U.S. for at least a year after being granted asylum.
  • Continue to meet the definition of a refugee.
  • Have not firmly resettled in any foreign country.
  • Your grant of asylum has not been terminated.

Bottom Line

Navigating the applications and interviews for political asylum in the United States may be intimidating, that is why applicants need a comprehensive understanding of the legal requirements and approach. In short, asylum seekers must articulate a compelling and well-documented case detailing their persecution or fear in their home country based on race, religion, nationality, political views or other.

There is no denying that the asylum process is meticulous and tedious, that is why applicants are often advised to seek professional legal guidance to enhance their chances as a successful case.

For more information on asylum eligibility and process, you can click here.

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