Every year, people from all over the world are forced to leave their country of residence because of persecution based on political opinion, religion, race or nationality, or membership in a particular social group. The international community and the United States Government have recognized the need to provide a safe haven for refugees forced to flee their homes. International conventions and domestic legislation have created the procedures by which refugees can apply for asylum in the United States once they set foot on American soil.
The purpose of this guide is to provide members of the legal profession and prospective asylum applicants with a basic understanding of asylum law.
Asylum is the legal protection afforded by the United States government to a person who can demonstrate a well-founded fear of persecution based on race, religion, nationality, political opinion, or membership in a particular social group. Asylees are distinguished from refugees by their presence in the country. They are seeking protection from deportation after having entered the United States, legally or illegally. The opportunity to apply for asylum is offered to both refugees outside the United States and people who have entered the country illegally. Those who can demonstrate a credible fear of returning to their home country due to past persecution based on any of the five protected grounds may receive status in the United States. However, status is never guaranteed.
Applicants have one year from their time of arrival in the United States to file for asylum. Failure to file within one-year may preclude asylum as a form of relief. This is known as the one-year bar. Exceptions to the one-year bar include changed country conditions and extraordinary circumstances beyond the applicant’s control. If the applicant's home country was safe when he or she left, but recently became embroiled in a bloody civil war, these could constitute changed country conditions making it too dangerous to return home. Similarly, extraordinary circumstances such as a mental defect, serious illness, or ineffective assistance of counsel could have prevented an applicant from filing within one year of arriving. The applicant is therefore not barred from filing after the deadline.
All information provided by this guide is for instructional purposes only and should not be construed or considered to be legal advice. You should always consult an attorney to determine your legal rights.
Pedro, a citizen of Equatorial Guinea, recounts the experiences that led him to flee his country of residence and seek political asylum in the United States.
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