Asylum Seekers in the U.S.

The Long Process for Asylum Seekers in the U.S.

By Xavier Young

An asylum seeker is a person who has sought protection as a refugee, but whose claim for refugee status has not yet been assessed. Many refugees have at some point been asylum seekers. That is, they have lodged an individual claim for protection and have had that claim assessed by a government.

Asylum seekers come to the U.S. because they may face persecution in their home country based on race, nationality, religion, ethnicity, or social group. However, not all will be eligible for asylum in the U.S. because of certain stipulations defined by law.

Everyone does not receive asylum when they apply. Also, it is one of the longest processes to wait for and actually go through. To apply for asylum, applicants are required to file Form I-589, a 12-page document where they must describe the harm they face in their home country in detail.

According to the Department of Homeland Security, the number of new asylum applications rose from 43,312 in fiscal year 2012 to 141,695 in fiscal year 2017. The rise in applications has changed the way asylum cases are processed in the U.S. courts.

Asylum seekers typically come from a wide range of cultural backgrounds and socioeconomic status, said Michelle Stilwell, a civil rights attorney.

“These are people that are overlooked by their own government, that can’t seek help in their own country,” Stilwell said. “So they’re literally coming here just to save their lives and to live in some sort of relative safety.”

The process of waiting for asylum has also changed. The time period of waiting for 60 days has stretched into a 2-5 year wait. The government does not estimate the time it will take to schedule an initial interview for these asylum applicants, though the delay could reach four years for some asylum seekers.

The wait to apply for asylum could be even longer than 150 days. Various things can occur to "stop the clock." For example, if asylum seekers request more time or fail to show up for a fingerprinting appointment, the government will stop the clock during this time. If USCIS (U.S. Citizens and Immigration Services) requests more evidence from the individual seeking asylum in order to be able to make its decision, the clock will stop until it receives the response.

It can take USCIS longer than expected to process some affirmative asylum applications; while, defensive asylum cases in Immigration Court can drag on for years. Taking such delays into account, people with pending asylum applications or cases who have been waiting for 150 days or more without a decision are allowed to apply for employment authorization.

During this waiting period, most migrants are not getting the funds to live properly.

Under U.S. immigration laws, only certain immigrants are allowed to work, usually after they apply for a work permit called an Employment Authorization Document (or EAD). Some years ago, asylum applicants were allowed to get an EAD as soon as they submitted their application for asylum and work while their case was being considered, but not anymore.

If asylum seekers win their asylum case, they not only gain the right to work in the U.S., but they do not need to apply for an EAD. Asylum allows a person to obtain an unrestricted Social Security card, which is all they will need to present to an employer.

The Washington State Department of Social and Health Service has helped out immigrants going through waiting process and not having decent living conditions. The department has what they call The Refugee Cash Assistance (RCA) Program helps refugees by providing cash and medical assistance (Refugee Medical Assistance program) during their first eight months in the U.S.

Another group that is helping asylum seekers is the UN Refugee Agency. They are a global agency that points people into the right direction once granted asylum. They set the asylees up for government benefits, health needs, and living conditions.

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