ACBA
The state Bar of California
Asian American Bar Association
American Immigration Lawyers Association
ATLA
Expertise
Expertise 2021

Asylum Seekers Are Not Illegal Migrants

Much has been made of the migrant caravan that is making its way through Mexico and heading for the southern border of California and other U.S. states. It has become a divisive political topic as mid-term elections approach, but the legal issue regarding the status of these people won’t be resolved when Election Day comes and goes. The seminal issue on point is the definition of an asylum seeker.

According to legal experts, asylum may be granted to foreigners who have been persecuted in their native country because of race, ethnicity, religion or political opinion or they legitimately fear such persecution. An asylum seeker is very similar to a refugee with one important distinction: A refugee must begin and complete the process for entry to the U.S. from his or her country of origin while an asylum seeker does so at a port of entry to the U.S.

When an asylum seeker presents at the border, a brief screening process is held to determine if a credible basis for fear of persecution exists. If so, a more extensive process is initiated with the asylum seeker remaining in the U.S. during the process. The Trump administration seems to be moving toward a suspension of asylum across the Southern border rather than evaluate each individual. This approach will almost certainly trigger lawsuits similar to those seen when the administration attempted travel bans on select countries previously.

Whatever manner in which the caravan is handled, the individuals have rights under the immigration laws of the U.S. An immigration lawyer may be able to evaluate each case to determine the best potential course of action.

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