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Refugees and Asylum Seekers


Refugees and Asylum Seekers

^ What does it mean to seek asylum in the U.S. and who qualifies?

An asylum seeker is one who is unable or unwilling to return his or her home country because they have suffered or fear persecution due to race, ethnicity, nationality, religion, membership in a particular social group, or political opinion.

^ How does one apply for asylum?

  • Requesting Asylum at Port of Entry

    If you request asylum at a port of entry, you will immediately be given a “credible fear” interview by an asylum officer to make sure that your request is based on a fear of persecution. This interview is supposed to be scheduled within one or two days, but it has been taking longer.

    If the officer isn’t convinced of your fear, you must request a hearing before an immigration judge. If you don’t, you will be deported from the U.S. and not be allowed to return for five years. The judge must hold the hearing within seven days, either in person or by telephone. If the judge finds that you have a credible fear of persecution, you’ll be scheduled for a full hearing. In that case, you should seek an attorney. This proceeding will take place in Immigration Court, before a judge, and with an attorney representing the Department of Homeland Security (DHS).

    Most asylum applicants are held in a detention facility at this point, though You should request release (“parole”). This will most likely be granted if you can verify your identity, have family or other contacts in the area, can post a bond (money that you give up if you don’t show up for future hearings), and can show you’ll be financially supported until a decision is made on your asylum case.

    If you fail to convince the immigration judge of your credible fear of persecution, you will be deported.

  • Requesting Asylum When Physically in the U.S.

    To apply for asylum, you must complete Form I-589, Application for Asylum and for Withholding of Removal. There is no application fee. Note that you may apply for asylum regardless of your immigration status (so, for example, even if you are in the U.S. illegally) and generally within one year of your arrival to the U.S.

    Officially, U.S. immigration law provides that an initial interview for asylum applications should take place within 45 days after the date the application is filed, and a decision should normally be made on the asylum application within 180 days of the application date. In reality, however, as of early 2016, due to the increasing number of asylum applications being received by the U.S. Customs and Immigration Service, the wait for an interview can exceed two years.

^ Who qualifies as a refugee?

A refugee is a person (sometimes called a “displaced person”) who has fled from his or her home country and cannot return because he or she has a well-founded fear of persecution based on religion, race, nationality, political opinion or membership in a particular social group. If such a person seeks to enter the U.S., they must apply for refugee status while still in their home country or while staying temporarily in another country outside the U.S. While waiting for a decision, the person will be referred to as an “asylum seeker.” A person who is granted asylum is called a refugee.

^ How do I apply for refugee status?

A refugee’s case is most often referred to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR. UNHCR has the authority to provide international protection to refugees. The case will then be reviewed by a Resettlement Support Center (RSC; there are nine worldwide), which will work towards the best possible solution for each refugee: safe return to the home country, local integration, or third-country resettlement.

Persons considered for refugee status will have their information and biographic information collected, after which various national security agents will conduct investigations into potential security threats. The person seeking refugee status will then be interviewed by the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and potentially other agencies. Fingerprints will be collected and reviewed from a worldwide database for any problematic results. One an applicant is approved, he or she will be required to undergo medical screening and complete a class on U.S. cultural orientation.

Note that some refugees can apply to an RSC witshout a UNHCR or other referral. These include close relatives of refugees already in the U.S. and those who belong to certain groups identified by a U.S. statute or the Department of State.

Also, if your application for refugee status is denied, there is no opportunity for appeal.

^ What is a sanctuary city?

A city that welcomes refugees and illegal immigrants. Sanctuary city is a name given to a city in the U.S. that follows certain procedures to shelter illegal immigrants. These cities normally do not permit police or municipal employees to inquire about one's immigration status.

One example of a sanctuary city is Austin, Texas. The Austin Police Department has a policy specifically prohibiting officers from asking people about their citizenship status. The city and APD have nothing to do with the enforcement of federal immigration. This issue lies with with the jail and the Sheriff.

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