The media has been reporting for the past couple of weeks about the caravan of Central Americans that have traveled for weeks to arrive in the U.S. in order to seek asylum from their native countries. Many of them ended up in Tijuana, awaiting their turn to approach the port of entry at San Ysidro to request asylum. Many families waited for days awaiting their turn to tell their stories to U.S. immigration officials. Of course, the U.S. will not be able to grant asylum to each person seeking it.
An applicant for asylum at a U.S. border must first go through an interview process with an immigration official. The official will conduct an interview in your native language and ask general biographic information and question the applicant about the reasons behind their fear to return to their country of origin. If the officer finds that the person has “credible fear” to return to their country, then the applicant will be paroled into the U.S. to finish their case with an immigration judge. Depending on the applicant’s criminal and immigration history, it is also possible that the applicant be detained during the pendency of their case.
Asylum requires that an applicant establish that they are unwilling or unable to return to their home country because of” past persecution or a well-founded fear of persecution on account of race, religion, nationality, membership in a particular social group, or political opinion.” The definition of many of the terms within that section of the law is defined by case law, and outside the scope of this general article about asylum.
Depending on the situation, an asylum applicant can apply directly with USCIS, and if it is denied, then it gets referred to an immigration judge. If an immigration judge denies the application, then it can always be appealed. If the asylum application has been pending for more than six months, then the applicant can apply for a work permit.
If an asylum application is approved, then the applicant has asylee status and can remain in the U.S. indefinitely and renew the work permits. Children under 21 and spouses can also derive this status from the principal applicant. After one year of physical presence in asylee status, the applicant can then apply for lawful permanent residence. Asylum is a complicated area of the law so speak to a knowledgeable attorney if you have questions.