Five Facts: The US Immigration Asylum Process

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Though the government shutdown has ended, the debate over immigration continues in Washington. Last week, the Trump administration enacted its new policy of sending asylum seekers back to Mexico while their immigration cases were being heard. And just hours before President Trump delivered his annual State of the Union address, a caravan of more than 2,000 migrants reached the southern border, according to Fox News; many of these people are expected to seek asylum once at a port of entry or in the United States. 

Here are five facts on the United States’ immigration asylum process and how it has changed under President Trump:  

1. According to the U.S. Citizen and Immigration Services, asylum is a law that protects people who are being persecuted in their home countries because of race, religion, political opinion, nationality, or membership in a particular social group and are looking for safety. Those who meet the criteria for asylum can legally stay in the United States without the fear of being deported. Anyone is eligible to apply for asylum in this country. However, in November a new rule was enacted that makes it illegal for large groups of migrants to declare asylum. And more recently, the administration has enacted new measures that prevent migrants from staying in the U.S. while their cases are processed, according to The Washington Post. 

2. The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) reports that 20,455 people were granted asylum in the United States in 2016. That year, over 115,000 people from around the globe filed asylum applications. According to this report, China, El Salvador, and Guatemala were the countries from which most of the asylum seekers came that year. The U.S. also saw a 19 percent increase in applications from Chinese nationals from over the year before.

3. The affirmative process and the defensive process are the two processes by which one can apply for asylum in the United States. Those who are physically in the U.S. or at a port of entry can apply through the affirmative process within one year of arriving in this country. Those who have been apprehended by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) or Customs and Border Protection (CBP) can apply through the defensive asylum process. During the affirmative process, a decision on one’s status is made within 180 days of an application being filed. During the defensive process, there is no such time limit and applicants must go through the immigration court system which today faces a serious backlog. 

4. The Refugee Act of 1980, a bill that passed unanimously in the Senate, fundamentally altered how asylum was processed in the United States. This bill increased the number of refugees allowed to enter the country each year to 50,000 as well as standardized grounds for seeking asylum. After the passage of the law, any person with a “well-founded fear of persecution” in their home country was eligible to apply. 

5. While the United States is seeing a notable spike in asylum seekers, this is not the first time in the country’s history where a large number of people have needed to be resettled. Following the passage of the Displaced Persons Act of 1948, the U.S. resettled roughly 350,000 Europeans following World War II. During the Vietnam War, the fall of the Soviet Union, and the start of the Iraq War, the U.S. also saw upticks in asylum seekers. 

No Labels is an organization of Democrats, Republicans, and independents working to bring American leaders together to solve problems.

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