In general, individuals who are currently present in the United States and have a well-founded fear of persecution based on their race, national origin, religion, political opinion, membership in a particular social group, or an apparent congenital disorder (such as albinism), and reasonably believe their lives or safety would be endangered if they returned to their previous country of residency, have the option to apply for asylum in the United States.
To apply for asylum, an asylum candidate is first required to carefully review the instructions provided for completing Form I-589. (See http://www.uscis.gov/files/form/i-589instr.pdf.) Once these instructions are reviewed, the asylum seeker must accurately, and where possible, in detail, respond to all the questions asked in Form I-589. The asylum candidate must also gather all necessary documents, and compile and complete his or her asylum package according to the Form I-589 instructions.
Generally, approximately two months after an asylum application has been mailed, the asylum candidate is interviewed in person by an asylum officer. The purpose of the interview is for the asylum officer to determine whether the asylum candidate has a valid basis for requesting asylum. Therefore, it is crucial for the asylum seeker to be adequately prepared for his or her interview. At the interview, the asylum candidate may be accompanied by a lawyer and an interpreter.
Usually within a few weeks after the asylum candidate’s interview, the asylum officer mails his or her decision with respect to the asylum application. If asylum is not granted, the asylum seeker will generally have another opportunity to resubmit his or her asylum application to an immigration judge. If the immigration judge denies the asylum request and the asylum candidate has been residing in the United States illegally, generally he or she will be placed in deportation proceedings. If, however, the immigration judge, or in the first instance, the asylum officer, grants the asylum request, after one year, the person who is granted asylum - the asylee - may apply for permanent residency in the United States and in time obtain a “green card".
It is important to note that generally an asylum application must be submitted within the first year of an asylum seeker’s entry into the United States. Otherwise, the asylum application will in all likelihood be denied, unless the asylum applicant can demonstrate that due to extraordinary circumstances, his or her asylum application should be granted.
It is also important to remember than one’s status as an asylee is not permanent. In other words, although not common, it is possible for the grant of an asylum application to be revoked. For instance, if the country to which the asylee fears returning no longer poses a threat to the asylee, if the asylee commits certain crimes, if the asylee travels to the country from which he or she has fled for fear of persecution, or if the asylee acts materially inconsistent with his asylum claim (for instance, if an individual is granted asylum based on his status as a homosexual and thereafter applies for derivative asylum for his wife) his or her grant of asylum may be revoked. For this reason, it is in an asylee’s best interest to apply for permanent residency at the first possible opportunity and in due time obtain United States citizenship.
Applying for asylum in the United States is a major step that might provide an entire family with the life-changing opportunity of lawfully residing in this country and in time, becoming a United States citizen. Therefore, before applying for asylum, it is best for a prospective asylum candidate to consult with an attorney experienced in handling asylum applications.