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Legal Information: Federal

Immigration

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Updated: 
December 17, 2020

How do I apply for asylum? How long after arriving in the U.S. do I have to apply?

    If you are not in immigration detention or involved in an immigration court proceeding, you can file your application at a local U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services asylum office. This is known as an affirmative asylum process.

    If you are in immigration detention or involved in an immigration court proceeding, you can ask the immigration judge for asylum as a defense against removal from the U.S. This is known as a defensive asylum process.1

    Either way, you must apply for asylum within one year of the date of your last arrival in the U.S. However, there can be an exception to the one-year filing deadline if you can show that:

    1. there are:
      • “changed” circumstances that materially affect your eligibility for asylum; or
      • “extraordinary” circumstances relating to the delay in filing; and
    2. you filed within a reasonable amount of time given those circumstances.2

    In order to know what circumstances can be considered “changed” or “extraordinary,” it’s important to work with an asylum lawyer who is up-to-date on the latest policies and court cases. To find a list of legal resources in your area, please see Finding a Lawyer and select your state or see our National Organizations Immigration page.

    1 USCIS website
    2 8 CFR § 208.4(a)(2); INA § 208(a)(2)(B), (a)(2)(D); 8 USC § 1158(a)(2)(B),(a)(2)(D)

    How important is it to have an attorney help me?

    It is very important to have a knowledgeable immigration lawyer help you throughout the asylum application and court process. There are ways to see a lawyer even if you cannot afford one, and you should always try to contact a lawyer before applying to the USCIS. Your conversation with the attorney will be confidential, and s/he cannot report you to the USCIS.

    If you cannot afford to pay an attorney, you may qualify for free or low-cost legal aid. You will see a list of legal services offices on the Finding a Lawyer page for your state. In addition, please go to our National Organizations Immigration page. In many states, Catholic Charities may be able to provide you with legal assistance relating to immigration. Go to the Catholic Charities website and search for the contact information in your state. You do not have to be Catholic to receive their assistance.

    Will I get an interpreter if I don’t speak English?

    If you are applying for asylum at an asylum office, you will have to bring your own interpreter to the asylum interview. The government will not provide one for you. The interpreter cannot be your lawyer or representative, or a witness who will be testifying on your behalf, and must be at least 18 years old.

    If you are requesting asylum from an immigration court judge as a defense to removal proceedings, the government will provide an interpreter for you at the asylum hearing and in all court proceedings.1

    1 See USCIS website

    What happens if they deny my asylum request?

    If you apply for asylum at an asylum office and they say “no,” they will probably put you into removal proceedings and you will have to appear in immigration court. At that time, you can ask again for asylum from the immigration judge. If you ask for asylum as part of your defense in removal proceedings, and the immigration judge says that you do not qualify, you can appeal that decision to the Board of Immigration Appeals (BIA), which is the highest court in our immigration court system. If the BIA denies your request, you can appeal to a federal court. If you are still denied asylum by federal court – or if you do not file an appeal when the immigration judge denies your case – you will probably be deported. It is almost impossible to do any of this successfully without an attorney with experience in asylum.

    To find a list of legal resources in your area, please see Finding a Lawyer and select your state or see our National Organizations Immigration page.