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Us Asylum: The History of Asylum and What It Means Today

The Caravan of migrants that has so infuriated Trump has reached the Mexican-American border, prompting intense reactions from both sides of the immigration debate. Their arrival has also raised questions about the reasons we offer asylum, who is eligible and why the us asylum process takes such a long time.

History of asylum

The idea of international asylum began after World War II, following the horrific events that took place during war time.

After the war ended, several countries put together an international agreement that aimed to protect asylum seekers post war. This international agreement became a United Nations policy under the refugee convention in 1951, which the United States later ratified into national law in 1980.

The goal of the refugee convention was to provide a safe haven for those who would otherwise face persecution in their homeland by allowing them to claim asylum in another country.

Historically, asylum claims have been made by everyone from defected soviet athletes to Chinese intellectual dissidents. Whether people entered the country legally or not, they are eligible to apply for asylum.

What is the difference between a refugee and asylum-seeker?

Refugees and asylum-seekers are required to meet the same requirements - the only difference is the location of the application. A person who is already in the United States or who has arrived at a port of entry would claim asylum, whereas a refugee is one who applies before entering the US.

According to an article in the New York Times, the world is suffering the worst refugee crisis since World War II. The number of refugees, asylum-seekers and displaced people across the world has peaked at a staggering 50 million persons. (NY Times)

In recent years, tens of thousands of these asylum-seekers have come from Central America to the US looking to escape countries with some of the highest murder rates in the world. According to government officials, the number of asylum seekers has skyrocketed in the past decade, from only 1 percent of arriving migrants requesting asylum prior to 2011, to today, where one out of every 10 apply.

Who is eligible for Asylum

To qualify for asylum the applicant must show documented proof that they have:

  • Been persecuted and/or have A reasonable fear
  • Of future persecution
  • On account of Race, religion, national origin, political opinion, or membership in a social group

Without meeting each one of these individual criteria, asylum would not be granted. In most cases, the burden of proof is relatively high as well.

In 2016, the United States granted 20,455 individuals asylum, according to the Yearbook of Immigration Statistics.

How to Claim Asylum

People who request protection at an American entry point must submit to a screening by an asylum officer, called a credible-fear interview. If the officer finds the fear credible, the case is then referred to an immigration judge for a full hearing.

In the case of the migrant caravan that has been infuriating Trump, the caravan organizers and their lawyers identified the strongest asylum cases — about 200, most of them children — and encouraged those people to apply for protection, while suggesting that the remainder seek protection in Mexico or elsewhere in Latin America.

“We have seen firsthand the extraordinarily violent conditions in the Northern Triangle of Central America that forces families and children to flee their homes in search of urgently needed safety in the U.S.,” said Jennifer Sime, Senior Vice President of United States programs at the International Rescue Committee in an interview.

“Those who qualify and are fleeing violence, who have no other route to protection, should be granted safety and asylum,” she said.

How Long Does the US Asylum Process Take

With so many people rightfully seeking refuge in the United States, the USCIS has become somewhat overwhelmed. Each asylum case takes several years to process, and with a huge immigration court backlog, the wait time prior to a court hearing continues to increase.

Many Central Americans stay with friends and relatives who already live in the United States. Once 180 days have passed after filing of their application, they are eligible to work in the United States. Their children can also attend public schools during their wait for a hearing.

Once granted asylum, the asylee can petition to bring family members to the United States. They cannot, however, travel to their home country even to visit. If an asylee wants to travel outside of the US, they will have to use a Refugee Travel Document to travel abroad.

One year after being granted asylum, the person in question can apply for a green card.

The Migrant Caravan

Until last Monday none of the asylum seekers among the caravan had been allowed by border officials to begin the process. Then, more than 24 hours after they arrived at the border, the first eight people were allowed into immigration services with their asylum claims. The group consisted of three women, four children and an 18-year-old.

Border control has claimed that the delays are temporary.

“As in the past when we’ve had to limit the number of people we can bring in for processing at a given time, we expect that this will be a temporary situation,” said in a statement from San Ysidro Customs and Border Protection officials.

The migrants see this step as just another part of the process, paling in comparison to the difficulties most of them have faced to get where they are.

“We’ve experienced a lot, and this isn’t going to stop us,” said Shannel Smith, 29, in an interview. Smith fled gang violence in Honduras and is one of about 35 transgender migrants in the caravan. (interview with the NY Times)

Since the first eight migrants entered immigration last week, the US authorities have slowly begun to process the remainder of the groups' claims.

According to CNN, more than half of the asylum applicants have now been allowed to begin processing by US authorities.

Alex Mensing, one of the caravan organizers from the group Pueblo Sin Frontera, reported on Wednesday that a total of 88 migrants have been accepted for processing so far.

Still, dozens of the migrants who traveled with the caravan are left waiting, huddled in tents.

If you or a loved one has a question about asylum, eligibility for claiming asylum or would like help through the process, please contact our lawyers and we will be able to help you.

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