Reforming Asylum in the Immigration Bill

196716_files.jpgMuch of the attention surrounding the immigration reform bill has centered on how the U.S. will address its millions of undocumented immigrants, and how it will increase the arrival of highly-skilled foreign workers. However, recently the attention has turned to the more humanitarian-based immigration opportunity of asylum.

Since 1980, the U.S. has offered asylum (or safe haven) for foreign nationals who fear persecution on accountof their religion, race, nationality, membership in a particular social group, or political opinion. (Note that asylum is different from refuge. One applies for asylum if one is inside the U.S. - if the person is outside the U.S., the person applies for refugee status).

In order to qualify for asylum, the applicant must have a reasonable fear of persecution due to one of the aforementioned grounds, and be able to establish that the applicant's government is involved in the persecution or cannot control the persecution perpetrated by private actors. Additionally, the applicant must not be subject to any of several bars to a grant of asylum such as past participation in persecution, having a conviction of a particularly serious crime either inside or outside the U.S., or engaging in terrorist activity.

If the applicant is granted asylum, the applicant receives work and travel authorization and may apply for permanent residence (a green card) after one year. In 2012, approximately 25,000 foreign nationals were granted asylum, out of an estimated 42,000 applicants.

Presently, asylum applicants must file their application within one year of entering the United States (or be able to prove that there was a change in circumstances that necessitates a later filing). The new immigration bill removes this one-year deadline, presumably to make it easier for asylum applicants to remain in the country and avoid persecution. Additionally, another provision would allow those who filed late to reapply.

However, it is unclear if the House of Representatives will agree to the removal of the one-year deadline, especially in light of the recent discovery that the two brothers allegedly involved in the recent Boston bombing came to the U.S. via the asylum system.

Importantly, the Boston tragedy did influence cautionary action regarding asylees. The Senate Judiciary Committee panel voted to rescind asylum status from asylees who return to the country from which they escaped unless the asylee could provide an acceptable compelling reason for the return. (There is already a similar provision in the current law, but the decision to rescind is discretionary. The new provision would make rescission more automatic).

The new provision is the result of official statements revealing that after his grant of asylum, one of the brothers, Tamerlan Tsarnaev, visited Dagestan, a province embroiled with Islamic insurgency.

The Gee Law Firm fully appreciates the importance of timely asylum applications. Our attorneys are available to assist you during this difficult time. Contact our office today at 650-293-0270 and speak to a member of our legal team about your case.

Additional Blog Posts

President Obama Signs Rare Private Immigration Bill, Silicon Valley Immigration Lawyer Blog, January 8, 2013
The Green Card Lottery Fiasco, Silicon Valley Immigration Lawyer Blog, June 28, 2011

Adjustment of Status / by Michelle Gee