How does asylum work in the United States?
Hi I’m Jim Hacking, Immigration Lawyer practicing law throughout the United States at our office here in St. Louis, Missouri.
I was chatting with one of our old lawyers the other day and she used to work here and she’s really, really good at asylum work.
And she asked me sort of what’s the lay of the land right now when it comes to asylum. And we wanted to shoot this as our fourth video as part of our how things work at immigration series and it’s how asylum works in the United States and specifically how it works now.
And so Jennifer, that’s the old attorney who used to work here who’s a very dear friend and someone I’m very fond of, we were talking back and forth about asylum and asylum has gotten a whole lot harder.
The number of asylum filings are down. When Jeff Sessions was the first Attorney General for Donald Trump he declared war on asylum. They have really, USA has done everything they can to make life more difficult for asylum seekers. The denial rates have gone up, up, up. The referrals to the immigration court have gone up, up, up.
And then of course at immigration court the judges are all being pressured very much so from above to deny as many asylum cases as possible. So cases that were very straightforward before are now really, really being challenged.
Now my wife Amany won an asylum case yesterday and we’re going to talk about that in another video and in our newsletter. So that was very exciting. It was a really tough case and I was really proud of her.
So asylum does still work, but man is it tough.
So the way asylum works is if you’re in the United States and you want to apply for asylum because you fear persecution back in your home country, you can file a form called an I-589. That’s the application for asylum or convention against torture.
And so you file that form and the I-589 looks sort of simple, but it’s not. You really need to pay attention when you’re filing the I-589. You want to be as detailed as possible.
You really should not file for an asylum case without an attorney. I think of all the things that immigration lawyers do, asylum work is the one that’s the most fact intensive because you really have to develop the facts.
You really have to draw a lot out of your client and then find supporting evidence. So you file the I-589 and you submit all the documentation that you can in support of the application. And that might be statements from family or friends, people who know about your situation, news reports, country conditions, all kinds of stuff. And so you really want to file as strong an asylum case as possible.
Now asylum cases can take a really, really long time and the asylum offices are all backlogged. There is not an asylum office in St. Louis, we use the asylum office in Chicago.
And the way that it works is when they have a certain number of cases in St. Louis that they’re ready to interview, then officers will come down from Chicago and they’ll stay here for a week or two and knock out a bunch of the asylum cases. One of the things about that is they usually don’t have much time.
So we have a case that’s been pending for four years and then you might get a notice and say, “Hey, be here in 10 days.” So you always want to be updating your case and you always want to stay ready to attend that interview because the interview is the whole shooting match.
And so at the asylum interview there’s going to be an Asylum Officer and they’re trained in asylum law. They have been educated in it and some are very nice and some are very mean. Some have a lot of experience, some have a little experience. You have to be ready for anything. And you should assume that the officer knows your file, that they’ve read over your file and they know about the conditions in your country.
So let’s say you’re from Iraq and you have a case that you’re a Sunni Muslim and the Shiite are now in charge in Iraq, you can assume that the officer knows all about how things are currently in Iraq. And so you need to get talking about your specific case. The officer’s always going to want to bring it back to your specific case.
This is another reason why working with an attorney is a good idea because the attorney is going to help you get ready to answer the questions properly. It’s not about framing them, it’s not about telling you what to say.
But it’s about making sure that you listen to the officer and that you let them direct where to go. Sometimes we’ll have these clients who’ll just talk and talk and talk and talk, and Amani will whack him and I’ll point at him and say, “Hey, just listen to the question and just answer the questions that’s asked.”
So the asylum interview is really important. It’s going to be about two or three hours long. You’ll probably bring a translator and there will also be a translator on the line to make sure that your translator’s doing things correctly.
The officer will ask you lots of questions. It’ll be very invasive, but it has to be because they’re trying to figure out whether or not you have a credible fear of returning to your home country.
Some time later, usually months or years, your case will get either approved or denied. If you’re approved, like yesterday for Amani’s client, you get an I-94 the mail and that’s proof of your status and it gives you the right to stay in the United States and to work.
365 days later you can apply for a green card and then you’re on your path to your citizenship. So that’s the great news when you do get asylum is you’re on your path towards a green card, lawful permanent residence, and then citizenship.
If your case is not approved, then you’re referred to the immigration court. So you don’t really get an appeal, you don’t file a brief or anything.
Your appeal, as it were, with asylum cases is to go to the immigration court. And somebody didn’t know the other day that immigration court and asylum court and deportation court are all the same thing. So you’re then technically placed into removal and you can raise asylum as a defense.
And eventually you’ll have a trial, probably a few years later, with an immigration judge and there’ll be a DHS attorney who’s trying to deport you. They’ll be trying to poke holes in your story. They’ll be using things that you said at your asylum interview with the Asylum Officer to try to make you out to be a liar. They’re doing everything they can to get your case denied.
So one thing to know about asylum is that certain courts are very antagonistic, very much against asylum. So for instance, the Immigration Court in Atlanta has a two or 3% approval rate. And then in other parts of the country, the approval rate is much higher. So you really want to think about where your case is pending.
That’s it for asylum. That was a lot to say. We have a lot of other asylum videos so make sure to check them out, but those are the basics. Give us a call if you have questions, 314-961-8200.
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