If you are already in the United States or one of its territories and you are afraid of returning to your home country, you may qualify for Asylum.
Asylum is granted by the U.S. government to aliens who can prove that they are afraid to return to their home country because they have a “well-founded fear of persecution.”
You may also be granted political asylum if you left your home country because you were persecuted in the past.
If you win political asylum, you can apply for your “green card” (permanent residence).
To win asylum you must appear at an initial hearing before an asylum officer, usually at a USCIS district office. If your application for asylum is denied, the case is automatically referred to an Immigration Judge before whom you will be given a formal trial to prove that your fear of persecution is “well-founded.”
The One Year Rule
Current federal law requires an asylum applicant in the United States to apply for asylum no more than one year after entering the United States. However, USCIS policy with regard to waivers of the one-year requirement is liberal, and there are many reasons for not applying within this one-year period.
What You Must Prove To Win Your Asylum Case
You must convince the asylum officer or immigration judge that you truly believe you are in danger, that you have good reasons for this belief, and that someone else in your position would also be afraid. You must generally present independent, verifiable documentary evidence that shows you fear persecution in your home country or that you have been persecuted in the past.
Persecution can mean that you have been, or may be, hurt, kidnapped, detained, jailed, tortured, threatened, killed, or beaten, or that you will be deprived of your freedom in any other way.
Credible Fear and Past Persecution on One of Five Grounds
You must fear that you will be persecuted based on one of the following grounds:
1. Political Opinion - The most common reason for being persecuted is because of political opinion. It doesn’t matter whether you support or oppose the government. People who have been persecuted because of their political opinions and have won their asylum cases have included: people who demonstrate as students, are active in labor unions, or are members of political parties or the government. Sometimes, even if you don’t have a political opinion, the persecutor may think you have a certain political opinion. He may persecute you because he thinks you have a political opinion due to things you do, groups you belong to, or your family’s background.
2. Religion – Another common reason for being persecuted is your religion, no matter what religion it is. If you’re not allowed to practice your religion or you are persecuted because of your religious beliefs, you may be able to qualify for asylum. Many times people who are religious workers, catechists, or members of Christian based communities qualify for asylum.
3. Membership in a Particular Social Group - Often people are persecuted because they belong to a particular social group. This means people who share certain characteristics such as: age, place where they live, family, ethnic group, race, nationality, gender or community.
4. Race - Sometimes people are persecuted because of their race. This means that if you have been or may be persecuted because of your skin color, origin or background you may qualify for asylum.
5. National Origin - Some people are persecuted because of their nationality. Nationality is similar to race. It can mean your country of citizenship, country of origin or your ethnic group.
6. Gender - Recently, the immigration and federal courts have also created a new ground of persecution based on sex and the treatment of women in foreign countries, and this ground may include the practice of female genital mutilation in the asylum applicant’s home country.
The closer the persecution came to you, the stronger your case will be.
For example, you would have a better case if you yourself were threatened or captured than if a fellow-student or someone else in your town or family were threatened or captured.
However, if you can prove that what happened to the other person shows that you are also in danger, you still may have a strong case.
Persecution Must be Government Sponsored
The people who persecuted you or whom you’re afraid will persecute you if you return to your home country can be the government (army, police, soldiers, elected officials, death squads, or others), the guerrillas, another opposition group, the civil patrol, or any other group that the government cannot or will not control.
If the persons who are persecuting you are doing so for personal reasons only, you will not win your case. Yet, if you have a well-founded belief that the persons who are persecuting you are doing so for a number of reasons, one of which is personal, then you may be able to obtain political asylum in the United States.
The Asylum Trial
Your testimony may be enough to prove your case.
You do not need documents, but, if you have them, it will greatly increase your chances of getting asylum.
For example, it can be helpful to show student or union identification cards, letters from a church or other religious group with whom you’ve worked, newspaper articles about you, your family or town, as well as general articles showing the problems in your home country, such as reports from the U.S. Department of State or Amnesty International.
If you persecuted others you will not be granted asylum. You can also be denied if you were convicted of certain crimes. You should always consult an experienced immigration lawyer before seeking asylum or appearing at trial.
A Judge Will Determine the Truth of Your Case
To prove your case, you will likely have to have to have a hearing in front of an immigration judge. The purpose of the hearing is to prove to the immigration judge that you fear returning to your home country. The immigration judge will then decide if you qualify for political asylum.
The Judge will decide in your favor if he or she believes that you fear being persecuted in your home country and, if he or she feels that your fear is real (this means that someone else in your position could have the same fear and you are not just making it up).