As a result of international treaties, most countries (including the U.S.) provide persons fleeing persecution with legal protection. Persons who are fleeing persecution on account of political opinion, membership in a particular social group, religion, race or national origin may be granted permission to come to the U.S. as “refugees.” Similarly, persons who are either at the U.S. border or have already been admitted to the country may seek protection in the form of “asylum.”
While few people are granted refugee or asylum protection (because of the amount of proof that is required), a person with a strong case and an experienced immigration lawyer has a reasonable chance of winning.
Unlike the asylum applicant, the refugee applicant is outside the U.S. and is required to make his case before an INS officer overseas and then must await approval. Approval will depend in large measure on whether the person has family in the U.S. or fits into categories of persons who are of particular concern to the U.S. Persons who have committed certain serious crimes may not be granted this protection.
A person admitted as a refugee will be granted permanent residency 1 year after admission to the U.S.
Asylum applicants are given an initial screening by an INS asylum officer who considers the case to determine whether they have made out a sufficient claim. In addition to showing that he has a well-founded fear of persecution, the asylum applicant must show that he is deserving of this special protection – by answering questions such as why he did not apply as a refugee or why he used a fraudulent travel document to come to the U.S.
If the INS officer denies the application, the person can request a hearing before an immigration judge.
The unsuccessful claimant is immediately returned to the country of origin.
An asylum application may be submitted after a person is arrested – as a defense to the INS effort to remove the person.
People granted asylum may apply for permanent resident status 2 years after being granted asylum.
Persons who may not be eligible for asylum protection may remain temporarily in the U.S. with permission to work if they come from a designated country in the midst of a civil war, internal conflict, or natural disaster.
Similarly, persons who were victims of torture may not be returned to countries where they have been subjected to such treatment, regardless of their criminal records. Some persons who do not qualify for asylum relief might be protected from being sent back to a country where their lives or freedom would be threatened.