Asylum seekers in the U.S.

Asylum seekers are displaced people fleeing violence and persecution in their home countries who are unable or unwilling to return due to fear of persecution or having been persecuted.

Asylum seekers request sanctuary individually and must be on U.S. soil to request asylum. Many do so at a port of entry (borders, etc.), while others are living in the U.S. undocumented or with a VISA (tourist, work, student, etc.) and then file an asylum claim (more on this process below).

Asylum seekers come from many different countries all over the world. The families CASP offers support to at the moment are from Central America, the Caribbean, South Asia, and East and West Africa.

Asylum is a form of immigration status for people who have come to the U.S. and are afraid to return to their country of origin. If a person wins asylum, the U.S. cannot deport them. Asylum seekers are those who have not yet received asylum but are in the process.

To win asylum, you must show all of the following:

  • You have been harmed or have a good reason to believe they will be harmed in your country of origin.
  • The harm is because of a specific characteristic like race, religion, nationality, political opinion, or something else about you that you cannot change or should not have to change.
  • The government of your country of origin will cause this harm, or the government will be unwilling or unable to protect you from this harm.
  • You would not be safe if they moved to another part of their country of origin.


What’s the general process for seeking asylum in the U.S.?

It’s important to note that each case is different, this is a general view of the process. Just because this is what is says here, it does not mean that each person we work with or that is seeking asylum will go through all of these processes or in this timeline.

  • You must be inside the U.S. or are at the U.S. border
  • You must apply for asylum within one year of arriving in the U.S. However, there are some special circumstances in which one can still apply for asylum after a year.
  • If you’re at the border, you must pass a “credible fear interview” to determine if you have a reasonable claim to asylum before they let you into the country.
  • From there, you most likely will be detained in a locked facility for an uncertain period of time.
  • Depending on your support systems, you may be released if they have relatives or friends(somewhere in the U.S. or an organization such as CASP who can pay your bail and offer financial and material support.
  • 150 days after filing your asylum claim, you can apply for an Employment Authorization Document (EAD, work permit), which could take 3 – 6 months to receive.
  • On release, and after you’ve filed your claim, you are scheduled for asylum hearings in immigration court. This can take anywhere from 1 – 10 years. Some of the CASP folks have been waiting for 5 years for their court case, which is common. This could result in either receiving asylum or getting denied asylum.
  • If an affirmative asylum case is denied, it turns into a defensive asylum case. If that gets denied you get one more appeal.


So are asylum seekers the same as refugees?

In short, no. While both groups are generally fleeing from similar types of harm, persecution, and violence the two are not the same. Seeking asylum is a process to become an asylee, and someone who is a refugee has already gone through that specific process and been accepted by the U.S. government (or another country) as a refugee.

Using these two interchangeably is ok, but we want to be specific about the language we use so as to not erase the specific experiences of the people we are working with.

Generally, refugees flee their country of origin and are temporarily living in refugee camps in a country that is not their country of origin or the country they are seeking sanctuary in (in this case living somewhere else that is not the U.S.). While asylum seekers must be in the country they are seeking sanctuary in, meaning they must be in U.S. soil.

By the time refugees get to the U.S., they generally have already been living in the camps or a different third place, and going through background checks and interviews while there to “prove” they are in need of refuge. Asylum seekers go through a similar process of background checks and interviews while in the U.S.

When people seeking refugee status are “accepted” into a refugee program and brought to the U.S, that’s when they “become” refugees, and are resettled by the U.S. State Department, usually through a national NGO. Because this group of people arrives in the U.S. with this accepted status, refugees have access to federal and state benefits, including a work permit, a social security number, food stamps, Medicaid (if their income qualifies), etc. Whereas asylum seekers are people who are in the midst of a process, and therefore they either have no access to federal benefits or must wait a period of time to access said benefits.

Once an asylum seeker’s claim has been accepted, they become an asylee. An asylee is a comparable immigration status to a refugee.

The people CASP offers to host through financial and material support are asylum seekers. In the current cohort, there is also one person who is an asylee, and one minor that is a U.S. citizen and child to asylum-seeking parents. Families and individuals can hold multiple immigrant statuses within them.

How does CASP offer support to asylum seekers in this process?

  • CASP finds host homes for asylum-seeking individuals and families who have no one else to take them in. During COVID-19, we have been renting apartments for those for whom we cannot find housing. In 2023, we are looking for host families who could open up their homes to an asylum-seeking person or family.
  • CASP offers basic needs such as food, clothing, and transportation through a network of volunteers and community members.
  • CASP offers a living and food stipend, covers medical care, and purchases health insurance plans for those who are not eligible for state-sponsored healthcare or healthcare through their employer. To support this effort, consider donating on a monthly basis.
  • CASP assists asylum seekers in finding legal aid to pursue their asylum claims in immigration court. We also assist their lawyers with their cases as they might need, and we apply for work authorization/EAD with the guidance of their lawyers.
  • CASP accompanies asylum seekers as they successfully resettle in our community. Three of CASP’s tools are a curriculum map for ESL teachers, a volunteer resource guide, and trainings for community members. If you’re interested in being part of accompanying consider becoming a volunteer.