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How Does the U.S. Asylum Process Work?

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As large numbers of migrants from Central America have fled to the U.S. in recent years, there’s been a lot of talk about the asylum process and how it works in the U.S.

Asylum grants are just a tiny part of America’s vast and complicated immigration system, but the process is widely misunderstood and mischaracterized, even by the government leaders responsible for managing it.

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What does it mean to seek asylum in the U.S.?

That’s when people from other countries come to the U.S. and ask to remain permanently because they fear being persecuted if returned home. Asylum seekers are similar to refugees. The main difference is that refugees apply for immigration status before they arrive in the U.S., while those seeking asylum usually just show up at a point of entry or enter with a temporary visa and apply for protected status. And although there’s a cap on the number of refugees admitted each year, the number of asylum grants is left open-ended.

How does someone qualify for asylum?


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.













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