WAUNAKEE, Wisconsin — Use of the term “asylee” proliferates whenever experts discuss the current surge of Central American children across the U.S.’s southern border. Some of these children will seek asylee-status — a form of protection which people sometimes confuse with other immigration statuses.
The U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services website offers a detailed definition of “asylee,” which can be analyzed by degrees.
1) An asylee is “an alien at a port of entry … unwilling to return to his or her country of nationality … because of persecution or a well-founded fear of persecution.”:
Luis Enrique Motino Pineda, a Honduran teenager, travels from Honduras to Mexico on the top of trains. He is searching for his mother. He is fleeing from violence.
Back in Tegucigalpa, “people are found hacked apart, heads cut off, skinned alive. Children are kidnapped. People are routinely killed for their cell phones” — according to Sonia Nazario, who wrote a book about Enrique.
The situation is so bad that children would rather risk a trip on the “Train of Death,” which takes them to the United States, than try to survive in their neighborhoods. People like Enrique have a “well-founded fear of persecution.”
2) The persecution must be “based on the alien’s race, religion, nationality, membership in a particular social group, or political opinion”:
Nigerian Michael Ighodaro left Nigeria two years ago. A homosexual, he had his life threatened by anti-gay “vigilantes.” After his family rejected him, he left for the United States, where he was granted asylee-status.
In his home country, a new bill has been passed recently that criminalizes homosexuality. As a result, arrests and assaults of LGBTQI members are increasing, as a Huffington Post article notes. Ighodaro cannot risk returning home.
3) “Asylees are eligible to adjust to lawful permanent resident status after one year
of continuous presence in the United States”:
One teenager from El Salvador, Luis, obtained his green card (permanent residency) just in time to allow him to attend college. At the age of fifteen, he emigrated as an unaccompanied child migrant so that he could live with his siblings. After three years, he received the good news: he had become a permanent resident.
He now has a right to apply for U.S. citizenship after five years, after which he can realize his life goal of piloting aircraft in the U.S. Air Force. While not an asylee himself, his story demonstrates the benefits that asylees receive by emigrating to the United States.
The term now defined, one can put key facts about asylees into perspective. According to the Department of Homeland Security, in 2012 the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services granted asylum to more than 29,000 people.
Chinese, Egyptian and Ethiopian nationals accounted for 34 percent, 9.8 percent and 3.8 percent of all persons granted asylum, respectively—which makes them the top three. The median age of these persons was 29 years.
Some obtained asylum “affirmatively,” by working with a USCIS asylum officer; others obtained it “defensively” in removal proceedings, arguing their case before an immigration judge. Many of the people granted asylum adjust to lawful permanent resident status after a year: more than 42,000 did so in 2013.
For others, a number of obstacles put asylum out of reach.
Asylee Women Enterprises notes on its website that the U.S. government detains hundreds of thousands of immigrants every year. Some of these immigrants seek asylum and have a valid case for being granted it. However, these immigrants cannot readily access legal representation in jail. Migrants, after all, lack the right to an attorney in immigration proceedings.
In 2010, 54 percent of migrants with an attorney were granted asylum, whereas only 11 percent were granted asylum when they did not have an attorney. In addition, migrants with limited English struggle to understand what is required of them. Some fail to file their application for asylum simply because the deadline and requirements were never communicated to them effectively.
Moreover, some estimates claim that, at any given time, as many as 27 million people are victims of a trafficking scheme, which is also known as “asylum fraud.” The trafficking business, in which smugglers essentially enslave men, women, and children for years in exchange for transporting them to the U.S., generated nearly $10 billion in 2014.
In the U.S., lawyers fabricate life stories for these individuals calculated to deceive the USCIS. Then, they work until the smugglers decide the debt has been paid off — it is “forced labor, debt bondage, involuntary servitude.”
– Ryan Yanke
Sources: U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, Northwestern University, U.S. Committee for Refugees and Immigrants, Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Senate Foreign Relations Committee 2, Huffington Post, Asylee Women Enterprises, Department of Homeland Security, Department of Homeland Security 2
Photo: Al Jazeera