What Does Seeking Asylum Mean? – FAQs & More


Leaving home can be a difficult decision. Many people in the United States are familiar with leaving home, but they do so to chase opportunities, go to school, get married, or start a new job. Throughout the world, however, the story isn’t always so simple. Many people across history—especially during times of violence and political unrest—have been forced to flee their homeland in search of protection and a better life. 

What does it mean to seek asylum in the United States? We answer some of your questions below. 

If you want to talk to a legal professional about applying for asylum or asylum for a family member, call the Winterberg Law Firm in El Paso. 

What Does Asylum Mean? 

Immigration to the United States happens in a variety of ways. One way is through seeking asylum. For people who seek this option, the idea of leaving home is not always voluntary or easy. By definition, asylum means to seek protection. 

In legal terms, asylum refers to legal protection that a country grants to foreign nationals that arrive at its borders. These people must meet the international definition of “refugee.” There are international documents that define a refugee as a person unable or unwilling to return to their home country and cannot obtain protection in their country of origin. 

A person’s inability to receive protection from their government might be due to previous persecution or a well-substantiated fear of future prosecution relating to their race, religious beliefs, nationality, or participation in certain social groups or political opinions. 

The United States History of Asylum 

America prides itself on being a beacon for human rights. Part of what makes America a destination for many immigrants is its outlook toward political freedoms and inherent human rights granted to everyone. Because of this, the U.S. has been a sought-after destination when people must flee their countries in search of protection or persecution. 

The laws on the books related to asylum are a reaction to the Holocaust atrocities of World War II. In the decades leading up to the war, the United States had lowered immigration quotas and has actually made it quite difficult for certain groups to immigrate to the United States. 

In 1939, the MS St.Louis turned away 900 Jewish refugees attempting to find refuge from the growing threats in Nazy Germany. The government of the U.S. told these refugees that they must “wait their turn,” which turned out to be a death sentence for many of those aboard, as they would face blatant and indiscriminate prosecution by the Nazis. 

After the war, as the world learned the details of what had taken place at these camps, international entities convened to create the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees— an international body created to help the resettlement of refugees. The United States, however, did not sign it until 1967.

The U.S. Refugee Act of 1980 

In 1980, President Jimmy Carter signed the U.S. Refugee Act of 1980, which outlined a process for helping refugees. Since then, the process has gone through some changes and reversals as changing administrations apply their spin on the matter. 

Although people use the terms “refugee” and “migrant” interchangeably, there is a legal difference between them that is especially pertinent in legal matters. In a nutshell, a refugee is someone who fled their country because they are at serious risk of human rights violations. This might mean an immediate threat to their safety or their family’s safety. 

Throughout the course of the country’s history, many notable refugees have come to America and contributed to the nation’s history. 

Frequently Asked Questions About Asylum in the USA

Who is granted asylum? 

The government reserves asylum status for people who cannot return to their home country because of a well-substantiated fear of persecution. Usually, they face persecution based on race, religion, nationality, or membership in a particular group. 

How long does it take to get a decision in an asylum case? 

After the right asylum form is submitted (I-598) and supporting documents the USCIS office reviews it for completeness and accuracy. In the meantime, you are scheduled for fingerprinting and soon for an in-person interview at a nearby immigration office.

The goal is always to get back to applicants within a 180-day timeframe, but with an influx of applications and backlogs, the USCIS office has seen various delays. Once you have your interview, however, the case should take an additional couple of weeks. 

Does having an attorney help my case? 

While it is not required to have legal representation as an asylum-seeker, data shows that people working with an attorney might see better outcomes in their cases.

According to the Niskanen Center, asylum seekers without legal counsel face an uphill battle and suggest that those with legal counsel are at least three times more likely to have their claims approved. 

Get an Asylum Immigration Attorney to Fight for Your Case

At the Winterberg Law Firm, we specialize in helping people with difficult immigration cases. Whatever your story, our legal team ensures that we provide you with the best case to win your claim. 

Have questions about how the process works when working with an attorney. We can help with your asylum case in El Paso. Call us at the Winterberg Law Firm today. 

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Victoria Winterberg

Ms. Winterberg’s law school experience began after joining the Law School Preparation Institute while being a student at the University of Texas at El Paso. She then attended law school at Washburn Univesity School of Law before formally beginning her career. 

Leveraging a unique cultural background and approach to law, Ms. Winterberg uses her expertise in immigration law to bring people together. She has extensive work in all areas of immigration law and has helped countless people win cases and thrive. Immigration-related cases often involve the most vulnerable in the community, and our firm is driven by our ability to protect our clients and their families with each and every case.