Throughout the past few months, stories of the horrors and the politics of family separation and detention have been flooding the media. Every day we see pictures of young children being taken away from their parents and hear accounts of the government's struggles to reunite them again. We also hear that a great number of these families are fleeing El Salvador, Honduras, and Guatemala, coming to the United States border as asylum seekers. For those of us who are not immigration attorneys, "asylum" and the process of attaining it may be misunderstood.
Asylum is a lawful process that allows individuals to seek protection in the United States due to persecution or fear of persecution in their home country. Grounds for asylum include persecution due to race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group, or political opinion. The individual must prove that the government in their country is a perpetrator of the persecution, or is unable to control the persecution or violence. Asylum seekers can only request protection once they have crossed the border; this differentiates their status from refugees, who receive refugee status from the United Nations outside of the country. Generally, individuals only have one year after they enter the country to request asylum.
Not everyone who requests asylum receives it. Those who enter the United States, either at a port of entry or between ports of entry, are apprehended by Border Patrol officers and can request asylum. If their fear of persecution is deemed credible by the CBP officers and an asylum officer they are placed in official asylum proceedings. Otherwise they are removed from the country. Asylum proceedings can take years to conclude and many asylum seekers apply for work authorizations after their case has been pending for 150 days. Those who are eventually granted asylum can then adjust into a legal permanent resident after one year.
There is a lot of miscommunication and misunderstanding surrounding the crisis at the border. By educating ourselves on the legal processes that have been put in place to address these issues and by learning more ways to help those in detention and asylum proceedings, we can help change the perception of those who have come to us for protection.
Please note that this is not legal advice.