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What does it mean to seek asylum in the US?

Austin. Ahead of his visit to El Paso last Sunday, President Joe Biden laid out a plan to help deal with the influx of people who show up on the southern border of the United States trying to enter the country.

CNHI News spoke to several Texas immigration lawyers and immigration experts to share what it means to claim asylum, who is eligible, and what other misconceptions they’ve heard about the process.


One who seeks asylum is also known as an asylum. Although asylum seekers are in the same category as refugees in that they usually flee violence or some form of discrimination, they are different.

A refugee is a person who has been processed outside the United States through the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees. Having received refugee status, they move to another country, including the United States.

Asylum seekers are those whose application is normally processed upon arrival in the United States. They come to the country, apply for asylum, present their case to an immigration judge, after which their case is heard.

Zenobia Lai, chief executive of the Houston Immigration Legal Services Collaborative, added that the asylum process, while sounding simple, can take anywhere from a few months to two years before a decision is reached.

According to the Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse, there are currently more than 2 million pending cases in Immigration Court.


On the border with the United States, there has been a sharp increase in the number of people arriving at the southern border in the hope of finding shelter. Most of them come from countries in Latin America where democracy is in trouble, such as El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras and Peru.

Haiti and Venezuela, as well as other countries, also face extreme violence, forcing families to make the decision to leave their home country in search of a better opportunity.

Although undocumented immigrants are often mistakenly labeled as criminals and a danger to society, Lai said that is not the case.

“They are here to seek protection from persecution,” she said.


A common misconception is that any non-U.S. citizen can simply show up at a U.S. port of entry, claim asylum, and be immediately admitted into the country. Immigration lawyers say that’s not true. In fact, it is a long and difficult process, and few people go through it successfully. First of all, because the shelter is available only to a narrow group of people.

Federal law requires them to demonstrate a “well-founded fear of persecution” in five specific categories: race, religion, national origin, political opinion, or membership in a particular social group, such as being LGBTQ+.

Those who flee because they cannot find work due to government failure or a collapsed economy, those who have lost their property or livelihood due to climate change, or those who face generalized rampant violence will not fit. requirements, said Audrey Mulholland, a lawyer. Texas Legal Aid RioGrande.

“General violence, even often violence during war, does not qualify for asylum because asylum requires that he falls into one of these five categories,” she said. “Indiscriminate violence does not qualify for asylum, even if they are badly hurt.”

Experts add that even with these narrow categories, getting asylum is difficult.

Lai estimates that those who seek asylum without a competent lawyer succeed at about 1%. Those who have a good lawyer have a success rate of around 9-10%.

As of the latest available data, the U.S. granted asylum to 17,692 individuals in 2021, according to the U.S. Department of Homeland Security.

According to individual data, there are approximately 1.6 million asylum applications pending.

“It’s not easy to get asylum,” Lai said. “Even if you meet all the criteria, it does not mean that you have won.”

Curtwright said that such low chances of getting asylum, in addition to the fact that it is a dangerous journey, demonstrate how desperate people must be.

“When you are in El Salvador and the local branch of MS 13 threatens to attack you and your family so that your children become gang members and extort money from you so that you cannot even feed your family, you don’t care. too much about your chances of getting asylum in the United States, you care about getting out of this situation,” he said.


Under a typical federal immigration law, known as Section 8, a person not only has the right to apply for asylum, but can also gain additional rights through the process. For example, if an assistant’s application is pending for 150 days or more, the assistant may apply for a work permit.

Lai said that because the process is very lengthy, allowing people to work to support themselves and their families, as well as earn a living, is practical because it makes them less of a burden on public services.

Once granted asylum, a person is free to live and work in the United States. After one year of asylum, they can apply for a green card that allows them to become lawful permanent residents.

Five years after asylum is granted, a person can apply for citizenship. This requires several prerequisites, including English proficiency, a test, and a clear background check.

Lance Curtwright, an immigration attorney based in Texas, adds that it’s critical for asylum seekers to follow the process correctly and stay in good standing, as any violation, no matter how minor, could result in their application being rejected. He added that this includes the way they enter.

“(Illegal entry into the country) is a crime,” he said. “If you want to apply for asylum, you don’t want to start on the wrong foot with the United States government.”


Immigration law applies at the federal level, but has changed frequently in recent years.

While Texas Gov. Greg Abbott highlighted the state’s Operation Lone Star, only federal immigration officials can deport people. However, Texas has allocated its own money – more than $4 billion so far – to secure the border. This includes building walls on the ground where possible, stacking shipping containers along the border, and sending thousands of members of the Texas National Guard to assist federal law enforcement in apprehending those who enter the country illegally.

Texas Republican leaders often denounce President Joe Biden for what they call a weak stance on immigration. They claim this has prompted thousands of migrants to try to enter illegally.

Last week, Biden outlined a multilateral plan to address some of the challenges facing immigration ahead of his visit to El Paso. This new policy includes more severe consequences for those entering illegally, new avenues for a more streamlined asylum process, and increased funding for 2,000 new asylum officers and staff and 100 new immigration judges.

Biden added that these are only short-term decisions, and Congress will have to make more permanent decisions.


Section 42 is a pandemic-era rule enacted under the guise of public health precautions.

It was put into effect in March 2020 by the Trump administration as a measure to limit the spread of the coronavirus pandemic. It was originally targeted at individuals from certain Latin American countries, but has since been used to expel almost anyone who tries to come to the US. There are only a few exceptions for unaccompanied minors and family members who wish to apply for asylum, experts say.

Some immigration experts say Section 42 not only violates federal law and immigrant rights, it exacerbates the problem. They argue that since Section 42 does not allow anyone to seek asylum, those who were going to try to come to the US anyway just wait in Mexico. According to them, this created more serious problems for migrants and the US immigration service in general.

First, while they wait in Mexico, a lack of resources has led to the creation of tent cities, which are often infiltrated by Mexican cartels. Migrants who have already fled terrible conditions are now victims of kidnapping, rape and gang violence.

Section 42 also created a bottleneck where, without the measure, the US would likely see a steady flow of migrants over time. Since Section 42 suspends asylum but people are still trying to enter the country, thousands of people are trying to come at the same time.

Curtwright said disputes over the status of Section 42 have also exacerbated frustration among pending immigrants who decide to enter the country illegally.

“In fact, we have created a system that encourages illegal intrusions rather than preventing them,” he said.

This is evidenced by the oft-cited record number of arrests.

Immigration experts say that because Section 42 simply expels undocumented migrants with no repercussions, they often arrive multiple times. This probably increased the number of arrests.


Mulholland said that if she could emphasize one thing, it’s that most people don’t want to leave their home country. In fact, Mulholland told clients that almost everyone said coming to the US was their last attempt to save their lives or the lives of their children, adding that life in their home country had become unbearable and unsafe.

“Asylum seekers are vulnerable and only leave their country for safety and protection,” she said.

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