What is political asylum?
It is a special and exceptional immigration benefit that if granted leads to the permanent residency in the United States and is based on the applicant's ability to show that the applicant has a well founded fear of persecution in his/her country of origin on account of race, religion, nationality, membership in a particular social group or political opinion.
I. How do I qualify for asylum?
The Refugee Act of 1980, and subsequent modifications of it incorporated into the Immigration and Nationality Act, provides that:
Any alien who is physically present in the United States or who arrives in the United States ... irrespective of such alien's status, may apply for asylum ... (sec. 208 of the INA)
If you or anyone you know have been persecuted by the government of your country based on your race, ethnicity, social group, religion or political opinion and you are afraid to go back to your country because you will be arrested, tortured or killed you may qualify for political asylum in the U.S.
What is persecution?
Persecution is a severe form of discrimination, harassment, torture, or any other type of harm that's being committed against the asylum applicant by the government of his country directly or indirectly. Forced or irregular recruitment into the military, cruel practices rooted in culture or religion, military operations against certain groups of people, rape or sexual assault on account of race, ethnic origin, membership in social group, harm to family members are the examples of persecution that was in some cases found sufficient by the U.S. government to grant political asylum to persons subjected to these forms of persecution.
Past persecution and future persecution
The asylum applicant must prove to the U.S. government official /interviewing officer or immigration judge that the applicant was not only subjected to severe persecution by his/her government agents in the past, but is more likely than not to be persecuted again if the applicant is returned to his/her country.
Is it important who persecutes me?
Yes, the U.S. asylum law provides for protection from persecution by government agents of the foreign government - the asylum applicant must show that it was his /her government that persecuted the applicant.
What if I was harassed and persecuted by the mafia in my country?
The majority of the countries in the world are corrupt. Mafia/organized crime are practically running these countries. However, asylum applicant in the U.S. will not get asylum unless asylum application clearly states a claim based on persecution by the government. Persecution by the mafia/organized crime usually does not count unless the organized crime /mafia representatives that persecuted asylum applicant were actually at the same time the government officials and persecuted the asylum applicant in their capacity as a government agent and also persecution was based on applicant's political opinion, race, nationality, social group or religion and was not based on pure economic reasons.
What if I am afraid to go back to my country because of widespread criminal activity?
"Hay muchas maras en El Salvador, yo tengo miedo para regresar mi pais por que mara salvatrucha menace mi familia y quere recruitarme para estar traficante de drogas " this is a common claim for Salvadoreans and other central American asylum seekers. Even though it is true that Mara Salvatrucha and other large organized crime groups freely operate in Central America and other regions of the world, asylum is usually denied if the only asylum claim that asylum applicant makes is fear of criminal activities, abductions, recruitment into gangs or fear of being robbed or killed by criminals. Only the failure of the government to protect an asylum applicant from criminal activity sometimes can be sufficient grounds for asylum but in such cases the burden of proof of the applicant is extremely high. For all practical purposes its almost impossible to win asylum case base on claim of persecution by criminals/organized crime or mafia.
What if I will starve to death if I have to go back to my country ?
Too bad! The U.S. government does not provide grounds for economic asylum - the only type of asylum is political - in fact if you mention during your asylum interview that you are applying for asylum for economic reasons your asylum will get denied and you eventually will be deported.
II. How do I file an asylum application in the U.S. ?
If you believe that you qualify for asylum and you've been in this country less than a year in any status, you may apply for asylum with the immigration service. In order to file for asylum it is necessary to seek assistance of a qualified attorney who will properly prepare your asylum application.
A WORD OF CAUTION - FAKE ASYLUMS, ASYLUM FRAUD
Avoid self-proclaimed non-attorney "asylum preparers" who claim to have "won" many asylum cases ! Such people usually do not have sufficient legal skills and English language skills to provide competent legal representation and to properly prepare your application for asylum. Unfortunately, there has been too many fraudulent asylum cases prepared by uneducated, unprofessional "community activists" and "asylum preparers" whose incompetence and lack of English and legal skills caused the asylum applicant to lose their case at every level of the asylum process and eventually to be deported. These asylum preparers and asylum paralegals usually make up asylum cases that have no credibility with immigration asylum officers - these asylums are written in extremely poor English, are very confusing to read, contain stories about persecution by mafia, by criminals, contain internally inconsistent or vague statements and generally make no sense not only to asylum officers but even to an ordinary reader who is fluent in English. These asylum paralegals can not go to court with you and often don't even go with you to interpret to asylum office. They are usually negligent in preparing the asylum application and provide you with fake papers to support your case and all this leads to inevitable denial of your asylum application.
ASYLUM TO GET A WORK PERMIT
Don't file asylum just to get an employment authorization - hundreds of thousands of central Americans and others filed hundreds of thousands fake asylum applications in the 1980s and 1990s and even a few years back because they were told by asylum preparers that they would get a work permit. Happy to get an opportunity to work legally rather than for cash, these asylum applicants signed hundreds of thousands of fraudulent asylum applications without even reading or/and understanding what asylum meant. Many of these asylum applicants did get their work permits and for many years were enjoying the temporary period of relative peace and well-being until finally they started getting their asylum interview notices. In the past few years tens of thousands of these asylum applicants have been called for their asylum interviews and unless they qualified for NACARA, they were referred to immigration court for removal proceedings. Clearly, the fake asylum applicants could not establish a well founded fear of persecution on account of race, ethnic origin, religion, social group membership or religion, they did not even know the definition of asylum, never been persecuted and did not know what was really written in their asylum application. Now, at the Los Angeles Asylum Office 1585 S. Manchester Avenue Anaheim, CA 92802 these unsuspecting illegal immigrants faced the moment of truth - they realized what the notarios have done to them by filing a fraudulent asylum for them - the notarios placed the asylum applicants in removal proceedings. It is one thing to file for asylum before april 1990 and qualify for NACARA and come out of the asylum office at 1585 S. Manchester Avenue Anaheim, CA 92802 NACARA approval and a happy smile on your face, and it is a totally different matter to come out of the 1585 S. Manchester Avenue Anaheim, CA 92802 Los Angeles Asylum office with a NOTICE TO APPEAR requiring you to go to Los Angeles Immigration court for removal proceedings, YOUR removal proceedings. The paradise ended in hell - I entered the country illegally, but I have never been caught by immigration - first step to paradise; then notario applied for my work permit by applying for asylum ; I don't really care what this asylum means, but I got my work permit and I am happy now - second step to paradise, but wait....why is the immigration officer asking me about fear of coming back to my country? What is the connection between fear of returning to my country and my work permit? And what is this little paper in my hands that's called "notice to appear" in immigration court. Now I am in deportation hell - my family and I are being deported because we did not qualify for this strange thing called asylum !! What am I going to do now? I am about to lose my job because I lost asylum case, I am about to lose my house because I lost asylum case, I am about to be separated with my family because I lost asylum case? Is it too late to do something ?
Well - remember, back when you came to this country...you did not go to immigration lawyer because you wanted to save money, right? You did not go to immigration lawyer because the notario gave you an easy way out - here is your work permit, fast and easy, don't think about anything else. And you did not think , did not ask immigration lawyer about what to do with your situation. At least now, go to free consultation with immigration lawyer, may be there is still hope for you to get greencard in immigration court, may be you still have a chance, so if you got denied your asylum in Anaheim, and were referred to los angeles immigration court, go to our immigration law office at 3550 Wilshire Blvd., Ste 1770, Los Angeles, CA 90010 (213)637-5623, come to our office with your "notice to appear" before you go to Immigration Court 606 S Olive, come to our office for first free consultation regarding your case and we will try to help you with your immigration case.
MY ASYLUM HAS BEEN FILED RECENTLY AND I AM WAITING FOR AN INTERVIEW - HOW CAN I PREPARE FOR MY ASYLUM INTERVIEW?
The first thing to remember is that you are going to be interviewed by asylum officer at 1585 S. Manchester Avenue Anaheim, CA 92802 Los Angeles Asylum office based on your asylum application and the interview is more likely than not will be conducted in the form of interrogation. You have to know and remember what's contained in your asylum application and you have to be able to clearly explain why you are seeking asylum in the United States through your interpreter to the asylum officer.
What is the format of asylum interview?
Some asylum applicants compared asylum officers to Nazi interrogators from the world war II movies that used extreme psychological pressure and emotional abuse to force a confession. We disagree with such comparison because the asylum officers unlike their Nazi counterparts decades ago
1) are not allowed to use torture; 2) are far more benign than the Nazis ; 3) do not need to use extreme interrogation methods because the asylum applicants often come with fraudulent asylum stories and get nervous and confused even under a slightest pressure and thus lose credibility and get denied even after a few basic questions.
However, asylum officers, well aware of all the asylum fraud that was going in the 1990s especially with Armenian and Russian asylum cases, are well trained to test credibility of the asylum applicant' s asylum claim. It is important not only what questions the asylum officer is asking you, but how they ask a question. And for asylum officer its important to see you and hear you answering their question not only what substantive statements you make about your asylum claim. The tone of the voice and facial expression of the asylum officer and of the applicant will probably contribute more to the approval or denial of the asylum case than the statements that asylum applicant made.
It is extremely important that you come to asylum interview with a professional asylum interpreter, preferably with licensed court interpreter or someone with good experience in interpreting for asylum cases or immigration court cases. We have such interpreters available for Russian and Spanish languages. Very often asylum applicants use unprofessional paralegals whose English skills are bad and whose interpretation is poor. Poor interpretation from your language to English of the asylum facts leads the asylum officer to believe that asylum applicant is inconsistent with his asylum application or simply lying about their asylum case. This alone may severely prejudice your asylum case. Also Asylum Office now has interpreters in native language of the asylum applicant who is listening in on the asylum interview to make sure the private asylum interpreter is not "helping" the asylum applicant to answer questions of the asylum officer. The asylum interpreter must interpret exactly what the asylum applicant is saying!
Asylum office appointment and procedures
Los Angeles asylum office is located in Anaheim at 1585 S. Manchester Avenue Anaheim, CA 92802 near Disneyland - some asylum applicants especially those who are in the U.S. illegally refer to it as "asylum Disneyland" since the adrenalin rush that they experience at the asylum interview is comparable to the most thrilling Disneyland rides and rollercoasters...
Arrive early - the parking lot space at the asylum office is limited! The benefit of the parking lot at the asylum office is that its free of charge.
Display your asylum interview appointment notice and ID to the guard and enter the building through the metal detector. The first window facing the entrance is where you are supposed to register with the asylum office clerk. Then you have to wait to be called to be fingerprinted and then you have to wait to be called to an asylum interview by your asylum officer.
The average waiting time for asylum interview is about 1.5 hours.
Asylum interview is a one on one interrogation where asylum officer through your interpreter asks you questions and you are supposed to answer in your native language only through your asylum interpreter. Before the asylum interview asylum officer asks asylum applicant to take an oath to tell the truth.
Asylum applicant's answers must be exactly to the point, short and concise, but more detailed if necessary. Asylum officers get very upset when asylum applicant fails to give direct answer on point to the question asked - this could become a reason for asylum officer to conclude that asylum applicant is not credible.
Before asking asylum applicant substantive questions about the reasons why asylum applicant applied for asylum, the asylum officer needs to go over the asylum application with the asylum applicant to make sure all the biographical information is correct. The asylum applicant may make corrections at this stage and such corrections will not be used against asylum applicant. Also common questions are about asylum applicant's entry to the United States, about asylum applicant's visa, about asylum applicant's employment and residence in the United States and how asylum applicant financially supports himself/herself.
Additionally, asylum officers ask who prepared asylum application , how you met the person who prepared your asylum application and whether you are fully aware of all the information contained in your asylum application.
When asking about why you are seeking asylum in the United States, asylum officers usually focus on the main episode in your asylum application, main incident of persecution that you suffered based on race, membership in social group, political opinion, religion or ethnicity. The asylum law requires that you demonstrate not only that you were persecuted in your native country, but that you were persecuted "for the right reason" , meaning based on race, religion, political opinion, membership in a social group etc. And of course, you must prove to the asylum officer that if returned to your country, you will again be persecuted.
Asylum officers interrogation methods
Asylum officers are trained in interrogation techniques and are knowledgeable about human psychology. Asylum officer's goal is to determine not only whether based on the facts contained in the asylum application asylum applicant qualifies for asylum , but also whether the asylum applicant is credible and telling the truth. The methods that asylum officers use can vary and may include the following:
- asking asylum applicant the same question at the beginning of the asylum interview and then at the end of asylum interview to match the answers ; and if the answers are different, this may meant that the asylum applicant is lying
- comparing the asylum applicant's verbal answer to asylum officer's question with the asylum application to see if the information in the asylum application exactly matches the verbal answer by asylum applicant; any discrepancy may indicate lack of credibility and must be explained by the asylum applicant
- pretending to be confused about the answer asylum applicant gives to confuse the asylum applicant so that asylum applicant would become inconsistent/not credible even if up to that moment asylum applicant was credible
- accusing asylum applicant of "not making any sense" by showing apparent internal lack of logic /causation between facts described by asylum applicant
- accusing asylum applicant of not answering the question, not answering the question with sufficient detail, not answering the question directly
- accusing asylum applicant of answering the question with too many irrelevant details
- putting psychological pressure on asylum applicant by raising voice, making facial expressions that express irritation, anger, making threatening remarks about the asylum applicant's lack of credibility
- making a threatening eye contact with asylum applicant to show "how is the boss" at the asylum interview and to put more pressure on the asylum applicant
The list of these asylum officer's techniques is not complete - each asylum officer likes to use his/her own methods of psychological pressure, also depending on what kind of asylum applicant they are talking to. The bottom line is that asylum officers will most likely apply some methods of psychological pressure on you and you have to be ready for that - asylum interview is not a conversation, it is not a dialogue, the government asylum officer is not going to be sympathetic to your asylum claim - the asylum officer will interrogate asylum applicants and asylum applicants must be ready for that.
After asylum interview:
At the end of the asylum interview the asylum officer will ask you to come back in two weeks to pick up the decision in your asylum case. IF you asylum was granted, you can apply for work permit and after one year apply for permanent residency in the United States. Also asylees are eligible for such government benefits as welfare, food stamps, medical, Capi, Section 8 and other programs.
ASYLUM IN IMMIGRATION COURT
If the asylum office in Anaheim did not grant your asylum claim, you will be referred to the Los Angeles Immigration Court for removal proceedings.
In immigration court asylum applicant gets a second chance to prove his/her eligibility for asylum. In immigration court, asylum applicant must hire an immigration attorney to represent asylum applicant throughout removal proceedings. If you were referred to Immigration court by asylum office and you have a pending appointment with the immigration court, do not hesitate to call us at (213)637-5623 or cell # (213)820-0434 to schedule first free consultation with an immigration attorney to talk about your asylum case that is going to be processed by immigration court.
In immigration court at your last "merits" hearing, you will have to answer questions about your asylum application - the questions will be asked by your immigration attorney, by the immigration judge and by the immigration government lawyer. The immigration government lawyers are like prosecutors with the criminal court, your immigration lawyer is going to be like criminal defense attorney and immigration judge is in the "neutral" position of a judge.
Also check out Country Reports on Human Rights Practices by the U.S. Department of State.