Asylum FAQs

What is asylum?
Asylum is a legal protection given to people who arrive in the U.S. and cannot return to their home countries due to past persecution or a fear of future persecution due to race, religion, nationality, membership in a particular social group, or political opinion. Asylum is only given once someone has arrived in the U.S. or at a U.S. border. U.S. law states that any person “physically present in the United States or who arrives in the United States … irrespective of such [person’s] status, may apply for asylum.”

How does someone get asylum?
When an asylum-seeker arrives in the U.S. or at a U.S. border, they may fill out an application asylum, either through U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) or Immigration Court, depending on how they entered the U.S. Applications for asylum must be made within one year of arrival, unless certain narrow exceptions apply. There are two primary ways in which a person may apply for asylum in the U.S.: the affirmative process and the defensive process. Affirmative Asylum is when someone is waiting in the U.S. or at a border and requests asylum.  Defensive Asylum is when someone applies for asylum as a defense against removal from the U.S.

How does this relate to what’s happening at the U.S.-Mexico border?
Major shifts in immigration policy have left hundreds of thousands of asylum-seekers stranded at the U.S.-Mexico border. Many families fleeing violence and persecution are being separated and kept at detention centers. Decisions by the U.S. to require asylum-seekers to remain in Mexico is placing a huge burden Mexico’s ill-equipped immigration system to process and support people awaiting entry to the U.S.

Why should I care?
The asylum process can take years to conclude, and many people in the midst of the process urgently need the protection of asylum. Additionally, there is a major backlog of cases. As of June 2020, there were over 1.2 million immigration court cases pending.* Asylum seekers, and any family members waiting to join them, are left in limbo while their case is pending. The backlogs and delays can cause prolonged separation of families, leave family members abroad in dangerous situations, and make it more difficult to retain pro bono counsel who are able to commit to legal services for an extended period of time for the duration of the asylum seeker’s case.

What can I do?
Advocate at the national level with legislators. Learn how to stay involved, get in contact with our Congress members and get regular updates about immigration law on our advocacy web page. You can donate to local organizations doing asylum-related work, like World Relief Spokane and the Northwest Immigrant Rights Project (NWIRP).

*Of course, this backlog does not only account for asylum cases, but any affirmative asylum application that’s denied is referred to immigration court. This is the main reason why many immigration cases can take several years to get a decision.