NON-citizens fearing persecution in their home countries look to the United States for protection. The relief they seek is called political asylum. It is granted to those who can show that they have either experienced past persecution or have a well-founded fear of future persecution on account of their race, religion, national origin, political opinion or membership in a particular social group. The harm can be from the government or from entities against which the government either cannot or will not protect them. Well-founded fear must be subjectively real–meaning that it is genuine–and objectively reasonable–meaning that a reasonable person in their situation would have the same fear.
Once the non-citizen has reached the United States, he must not hesitate. If he does not file for asylum within one year of entry, he will be barred, with certain exceptions, from seeking that relief. In the paperwork and at the interview, the applicant must convince the asylum officer that the case is substantial enough to be granted asylum. If the officer is not persuaded, he will refer the matter to immigration court, where the applicant will have a second chance to seek asylum relief.
As the law has changed over the years, preparing and presenting a successful asylum case has become more and more difficult. A well-prepared application supported by powerful declarations and strong evidence is essential to winning the case.
One year after asylum is granted, the person will be eligible to file for permanent resident status (a green card). After five years as a green card holder, he is eligible to file for US citizenship. However, even after having been granted asylum, a green card, or citizenship, it is possible to lose the status.
In order to travel between countries, one needs a travel document. This document is generally called a passport and is issued by the government of the country of citizenship. Many people think of this document as a formality. They do not stop to consider what traveling under a passport means. In fact, in using a passport of a particular country, the traveler is stating that they are traveling under that country’s protection. Obviously, a conflict occurs when one has obtained asylum from a country and then continues to travel with or renew, even as identification, the passport of the country from which they sought and were granted asylum.
In point of fact, availing oneself of the protection of the country of persecution can result in revocation of asylum status. The person may be considered to no longer fear persecution. Worse yet, the person may be thought to have obtained the asylum status fraudulently. A finding that one has lied to obtain asylum can result in the loss of the status, loss of a green card or denaturalization (loss of citizenship).
It can also result in a permanent bar from all relief under the Immigration and Nationality Act. So, what can one who has been granted asylum and needs to travel do?
There are alternative documents issued by the US government with which those in asylum and people granted a green card through asylum can travel. After one has US citizenship, he can travel with a US passport.
Even with a US-issued travel document, the person in asylum or green card holder should not believe that he can travel to his home country. The regulations state that returning to the country of claimed persecution will be deemed an abandonment of the application unless the applicant can establish compelling reasons for having assumed the risk of persecution by returning. Compelling is defined in the dictionary as “to necessitate either by physical or moral force.” It is a very high standard.
Returning to one’s home country, even for strong reasons, should never be done lightly. Doing so after one has obtained a green card can result in revocation of the green card and asylum status. In fact, filing for naturalization after one has traveled to one’s home country can result in being placed in revocation proceedings. Again, if the government concludes that the person misrepresented their situation in order to obtain asylum status, they can be stripped of their US citizenship.
The mere fact that one has returned to one’s home country, even after obtaining US citizenship, is looked upon as evidence that one misrepresented their fear of returning home.
Consultation with an experienced and knowledgeable immigration lawyer before taking any step that could risk asylum, green card or citizenship status is essential in order to shield the protection that they struggled to get.