What Is Asylum? What Are the Requirements to Be Granted Asylum?
On September 14, 2022, two airplanes landed on Martha’s Vineyard, the island off the coast of mainland Massachusetts. The passengers, who came from Texas via Florida, were undocumented Venezuelan immigrants. Florida governor Ron DeSantis used taxpayer funds to pay for the relocation as a statement that Florida does not welcome migrants seeking sanctuary, and officials in Florida did not work with Massachusetts officials before sending them to Martha’s Vineyard.
Residents and relief workers on the island immediately provided safe accommodations for the refugees; however, what got lost in most media accounts about this story is that the migrants had been seeking asylum to protect themselves from state-sponsored violence in their home country.
What is Asylum?
Political asylum involves a person seeking protection from a foreign sovereign due to persecution in their home country. Many famous people have sought asylum for a variety of reasons, including Albert Einstein, Sigmund Freud, philosopher René Descartes, former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, and musicians Freddy Mercury and Gloria Estefan.
The modern concept of asylum is set forth in Article 14 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, adopted by the United Nations in 1948, which states that “everyone has the right to seek and to enjoy in other countries asylum from persecution.” The grounds for asylum can include persecution because of religion, political opinion, nationality, race, caste, or membership in a social group. The United States Congress, in the Refugee Act of 1980, incorporated the United Nations definition of “refugee” for the purposes of asylum.
What Are the Requirements for Seeking and Obtaining Asylum in the United States?
To qualify for asylum in America, an applicant must demonstrate that:
- They have not been convicted of a felony or other serious crime;
- They have a “well-founded fear” of persecution in their homeland; and
- That persecution would be based on one of the five following grounds: race, religion, nationality, political opinion, or social group.
How May a Person Be Granted Asylum in the United States?
American law recognizes three paths to legal asylum for foreign nationals:
- Affirmative asylum—A person already in the United States may apply for asylum through the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), provided he or she is not currently in removal proceedings. A minor designated as an “unaccompanied child” may seek asylum even if in removal proceedings.
- Defensive asylum—A person who is in removal proceedings may seek asylum as a defense to removal. That includes a person who initially seeks asylum when not in removal proceedings, but whose request for asylum is initially rejected.
- Expedited asylum—If a foreign national is taken into custody within 14 days of coming into the United States, and is therefore subjected to “expedited removal,” he or she may ask an asylum officer to review a request for removal before removal proceedings continue.
What Are the Benefits of Being Granted Asylum?
An immigrant who is successfully granted asylum in the United States is not required to return to their home country involuntarily. They also can request to bring family members to the United States, can obtain work authorization in the country, and may seek a Social Security card. They may also be eligible for government benefits.
Further information: Asylum