Asylum in the United States
“Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free… .” These words rest at the bottom of the Statute of Liberty to welcome those seeking opportunities and freedom. This sonnet speaks of a country founded by immigrants who sought freedoms they were unable to find in their home countries. Two hundred years later, this country which once had an open door policy, can now be harder to get into than the latest celebrity chef’s restaurant.
Recent court decisions have made it more difficult for those seeking a safe harbor in the United States, referred to as asylum relief. Asylum relief represents the idea that an immigrant can come to our country to pursue a life free from the persecution for their religion, race, or views which they are suffering in their home country. Many people come to the United States seeking such refuge, but increasingly few are able to stay and secure it.
In order to qualify for asylum relief you must jump through some hoops to demonstrate not only persecution in your home country, but also that this persecution fits within one of a few chosen groups. Approval of an application for asylum hinges on demonstrating either past persecution in your country or fears of future danger if you would be forced to return. You would need to show actual threats to your life or your freedom. Simple harassment or difficulty finding a job will not be enough to get you past the asylum door.
If you able to show that your life or freedom are in danger, you must also show that the danger exists for you throughout your entire home country– in other words, that it could not be cured by relocating to another part of the country.
If past persecution cannot be established, you may qualify through demonstrating future persecution. Future persecution is demonstrated by showing a well-founded fear that you would face persecution should you be forced to return.
To qualify for asylum relief, the past or future persecution must be either (a) persecution by the government of your home country, or (b) persecution that the government of your home country is unable or unwilling to stop.
Finally, once this type of persecution is established, you must then show that this persecution is a result of one of five protected grounds: religion, race, nationality, political opinion or membership in certain social groups.
Recent court decisions have made it increasingly difficult to qualify under the last ground, membership in certain social groups. Courts look to numerous factors to determine if members of the social group have either characteristics which cannot be changed (e.g., gender) or characteristics which persons should not be required to change (e.g., land ownership). The courts have also stated that the social group must be distinct and socially visible by the community. Groups that have historically not been able to qualify include those threatened with honor killings, victims of domestic violence, and those avoiding forced gang recruitment. Attorneys have been working for an expansion of the “socially visible” requirement to include such groups.
To qualify for asylum, once you are able to meet these requirements you must then ask for the court’s “favorable exercise of discretion.” In deciding whether to exercise its discretion and grant asylum, the court will look to the total circumstances of your case to see if you deserve the grant of asylum into the United States.
The above requirements for asylum can be very difficult to meet, making asylum seem out of reach for many. However, asylum relief presents valuable opportunities to those who can qualify. If you are granted asylum, you will be authorized to work in the United States, may immediately apply for an unrestricted Social Security card, and may request derivative asylum status for your spouse or children who were listed on your asylum application. And, after one year in the United States, you may apply for permanent residence (a green card).
The immigration attorneys at Livesay & Myers, P.C. have extensive experience with asylum cases. We represent clients throughout Virginia, Maryland and the District of Columbia. If you or a loved one require legal assistance with an application for asylum or any other immigration law matter, contact us to schedule your initial consultation with an experienced immigration lawyer today.