Hundreds of people from Central American countries – mostly Honduras – are stuck at the San Ysidro port of entry with their hearts full of hope. Right at the border between Mexico and the U.S., mothers with children, young adults, and a few older folks, mainly from small villages, are eager to request asylum in the U.S. after traveling thousands of miles in what has been called a migrant caravan or refugee caravan. Some 300 caravan members had decided to request asylum in Mexico, but others continued to the U.S. border.
They are calling themselves refugees.
Considering the controversy this group has generated, we need to review some facts about asylum law in the U.S. and the challenges they are confronting to achieve their goal.
Here are some of the basic points.
Refugees are considered asylum seekers. Refugees are victims and have survived life-threatening situations in their countries of origin and during their trip to seek refuge. It is safe to say that the great majority have experienced victimization at several points along their journey. Many have been arrested, jailed, beaten, raped, and/or tortured based on aspects of their identity. Many have fled their native countries due to political, religious or sectarian persecution and/or genocide. They can be peasants, mothers, journalists, or politicians and may come from countries all over the world.
The U.S. has a long history of providing refuge to victims of religious or other types of persecution, starting with the first European settlers in the continental U.S. who wanted the freedom to practice their religion. There are an estimated 15.4 million refugees worldwide. According to data from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security and Department of Justice, 21,113 individuals were granted asylum in Fiscal Year 2010. But the situation with the Trump administration is different.
The refugee crisis has been exacerbated lately by the horrific civil-proxy war in Syria and the pervasive crime, poverty and gang-related violence in Central American countries. Add to that the collapse of the Venezuelan economy.
In spite of the great need of a safe haven for refugees, the Trump administration has tried to limit the entrance of refugees through the Muslim Travel Ban, through fighting legal cases and reducing support to claimants.
Asylum applicants must file with United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) or an immigration judge if they are facing deportation. (Click here to learn more about the process of filing for asylum.)
Members of the refugee caravan who show up at the border must submit to a screening by an asylum officer at the port of entry for what is called the “credible fear interview.” This interview involves disclosure of their past activities, associations, and experiences of violence and persecution and their fear of future persecution. If the agent finds the story credible, he or she will refer the case to an immigration judge for a full hearing.
An asylum applicant does not enjoy a presumption of credibility, and they must document their cases with evidence. The burden of proof is on the applicant to establish if they can be considered a refugee and that the information they are providing is true.
The asylum seekers’ testimony should be compelling, consistent, believable, and specific enough to convince immigration authorities. The cases are strengthened if they bring corroborating proof, such as newspaper articles, affidavits of witnesses or experts, journals, books, doctors’ statements, photographs, etc., to the immigration hearings.
Who is barred from an asylum process?
- Those who have participated in the persecution of others
- Applicants who have been convicted of serious crimes and constitute a danger to the community of the United States or can become a danger to the people in the U.S.
- Applicants who have engaged in terrorist activity
- Individuals who have been resettled in another country prior to arriving in the United States
- And those who failed to file their applications within one year of arrival, absent changed or extraordinary circumstances.
As today, May 1, 2018, around eight participants in the caravan have been granted entry to the U.S. to request asylum.