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 Is a presentation led by Collin, our Director of Advocacy and Development, intended to inform any interested audience about asylum seekers, regardless of that audience's prior knowledge on the subject. The presentation is intended to separate myth from fact and to inform viewers of the trends in U.S. asylum policy, what the process looks like, and about ways folks here in Northern Colorado can get involved in helping asylum seekers in their home town. 

The presentation is free, and all are welcome to come and learn, ask questions, and share the information they acquire.

Please note that powerpoint presentation is not complete – it is a selection of slides used for the Spring 2019 fundraiser, Journey of Hope: American Asylum.

The American Asylum System is Broken

With thousands of asylum seekers stuck at our Southern Border, forced to remain in Mexico and wait for an incredibly slow process to adjudicate their claims and requests for safety, one might wonder how the system ever came to look the way it does. Surely this cannot be how it was intended to work. It was not intended to be like this.

To understand how we got to where we are at now, though, we need to first begin with defining some terms and establishing a context for this new information.

Lesson 1a:
Who is an asylum seeker?

To understand asylum policy, one must first begin by understanding who an asylum seeker is and why such a policy would ever need to exist in the first place.
An asylum seeker, like a refugee, is a person who, owing to a well-founded fear of being persecuted for reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership in a particular social group or political opinion, is outside of the country of his nationality and is unable to, or owing to such a fear, is unwilling to avail himself of the protection of that country.


In other words, an asylum seeker is someone who meets the international standard for qualifying as a refugee. Why, then, is that person not just called a refugee and dealt with as other refugees are, such as through repatriation, local integration, or resettlement?
This answer is quite complicated and can easily get into discussions about international relations and global geopolitics. The important distinction between a refugee and an asylum seeker, though is this: location.

How are asylum seekers different from refugees?

Asylum seekers differ from refugees insofar as the latter group will receive their refugee status from an international organization called UNHCR. This organization has the mandate to grant this status to people who meet the definition of refugee defined earlier. These people with status are then processed to determine which “durable solution” is best for their case.
Some people, however, do not get that status from UNHCR — either because they did not ask for it, a UNHCR office is not near them, or for some other reason.
Some people go to the country they are fleeing toward in order to ask that specific country for protection. These are asylum seekers. Asylum seekers are seeking protection from a specific sovereign state, and they are using for that protection at the port of entry for that state or within the state already. Conversely, refugees are receiving help from UNHCR and are having their durable solution chosen by that organization outside of their ultimate country of stay.

Why do we have an asylum policy?

We did not always have one. In fact, we should see our progress in establishing a policy as a great achievement in humanitarian efforts. Prior to the Second World War, the United States, along with many other countries, did not have a sophisticated way of adjudicating humanitarian claims, and our process for helping those people fleeing conflict abroad was greatly conflated with our broader immigration policy — a policy ripe with xenophobia (for more, see Immigrant 101).
This all changed after the Second World War, after the horrors of the Holocaust were more widely known among the international community. Prior to the War, Jews sailing aboard the St. Louis departed from Hamburg, Germany for Havana, Cuba in the hopes of being welcomed in by the United States or Canada. Neither allowed these refugees safe passage, and many, when returned to Europe, we then killed in the Holocaust. This failure of the international system to help people in need catalyzed a desire to do better after the War (for more on the St. Louis, click here).
After the War, in a broader interest to facilitate diplomacy through reciprocity rather than statecraft through dominance, various institutions were created that would facilitate conversation between allies and adversaries. One of those institutions was the United Nations, and a few years after its creation a group from the international community created the United Nations Declaration of Human Rights. Internal to that Declaration was Article 14, stating that “everyone has the right to seek and enjoy in other countries asylum from persecution.” As a signatory to the 1967 Protocol on Refugees, the United States has a legal obligation to have a process for helping those fleeing persecution.

How is the Process Supposed to Work versus How It Really Works?

In a perfectly ideal setting, the individual fleeing persecution would arrive at a United States Port of Entry with all of his/her identification paperwork, evidence of the persecution happening back home, and they will have somewhere to go inside the United States. Once processed by the Customs and Border Protection (CBP) and United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), that person would be released into the United States to live and work until his/her asylum case was fully heard by a judge.

In reality, the process is much more complicated, and seldom do people who are fleeing persecution arrive with everything perfectly organized and present. Check out this incredible infographic describing how the process really works. Needless to say, it’s complicated.

With this incredibly complicated system in place, many asylum seekers who are need of protection are not receiving that protection needed. This is a result of policy failure in the United States, stemming from immigration dysfunction in the United States.

Asylum Claims found credible

Credible Fear Interviews are Adjudicated by USCIS Asylum Officers

Asylum Cases Before the Judge

After the credible fear interview comes an actual adjudication by a judge. During this period, the majority of cases are lost.

For a fuller description of the asylum process, including the political and economic dimensions of this system, please request a full presentation.

Sources to Learn More About Asylum:

  1. Asylum in the United States. (2018, March 14). Retrieved from https://www.americanimmigrationcouncil.org/research/asylum-united-states

  2. The Separation of Families at the Border and Asylum Law in the United States [Audio blog interview]. (2018, June 19). Retrieved from https://www.globaldispatchespodcast.com/the-separation-of-families-at-the-border-and-asylum-law-in-the-united-states/

  3. Seeking Asylum in the United States [Audio blog interview]. (2018, October 31). Retrieved from https://immigrationnation.libsyn.com/seeking-asylum-in-the-united-states

  4. Asylum Seekers & Refugees. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://www.immigrantjustice.org/issues/asylum-seekers-refugees

  5. Human Rights Watch. (2016, April 25). US: 20 Years of Immigrant Abuses. Retrieved from https://www.hrw.org/news/2016/04/25/us-20-years-immigrant-abuses

  6. Immigration Equality. (n.d.). 9. Immigration Basics: Real ID Act. Retrieved from https://www.immigrationequality.org/get-legal-help/our-legal-resources/immigration-equality-asylum-manual/immigration-basics-real-id-act/#.XJoloraZPq0

  1. Patterson, A., & Lawfare. (2019, February 14). Department of Homeland Security Releases Its 'Remain in Mexico' Plan. Retrieved from https://www.lawfareblog.com/department-homeland-security-releases-its-remain-mexico-plan