Asylum seekers must first prove that they have a “credible fear” of being persecuted if sent back home. In a pre-screening with an asylum officer, they have to prove they have a well-founded fear of being harmed or detained because of their race, religion, nationality, political opinion or membership in a particular social group. Those who pass this first step then make their case before an immigration judge, who either grants or denies asylum. Applicants who are denied asylum typically get deported. But those granted asylum can live and work legally in the U.S., and apply for a green card after a year.
Why is asylum being talked about so much now?
Since 2014, a major surge of immigrants, including many unaccompanied children, from Honduras, El Salvador and Guatemala--among the most dangerous countries in the world--have shown up at the U.S.-Mexico border to request asylum. Many are fleeing rampant gang violence and crippling poverty. But the Trump administration has aggressively tried to crackdown on the number of undocumented immigrants entering the country. Administration officials claim that many asylum-seekers are gaming the system by making up stories to find an easy way in.
In an effort to make the asylum process more difficult, the administration has instructed immigration officials to reject more claims. They also briefly ordered immigration agents to detain adult applicants and separate them from their children while awaiting asylum hearings. This controversial policy was abruptly ended after a massive public outcry, but many children still remain separated from their parents.