One of the many upsides to practicing as an Miami immigration attorney, is the fact that I am lucky enough to help a subset of immigrants who are in dire need of relief. These are the immigrants who are seeking asylum and refugee status. Asylum and refugee status are special legal protections available to people who have left their home country for their own safety and are afraid to return. Once you file Form I-589, you may receive work authorization after 150 days have elapsed. But beware – filing the application solely for the work permit and without a legitimate claim, may result in very harsh consequences.

What requirements do I have to meet in order to qualify for asylum or refugee status?

Not everyone qualifies for asylum or refugee status. You must meet some strict requirements. In particular, you must meet two main criteria:

  • You are unable or unwilling to return to your home country because you have been persecuted there in the past or have a well-founded fear that you will be persecuted if you go back.
  • The reason you have been (or will be) persecuted is connected to one of five things: your race, religion, nationality, membership in a particular social group, or your political opinion.

What is a “well-founded fear?”

The Board of Immigration Appeals has set forth four elements which an applicant must prove in order to establish a well-founded fear of persecution:

  1. the applicant possesses a belief or characteristic a persecutor seeks to overcome in others by means of punishment of some sort;
  2. the persecutor is already aware, or could become aware, that the applicant possesses this belief or characteristic;
  3. the persecutor has the capability of punishing the applicant; and
  4. the persecutor has the inclination to punish the applicant.

What Is Persecution?

Persecution means to harass, punish, injure, oppress, or otherwise cause someone to suffer physical or psychological harm. It is easiest to point to some common examples of what the United States considers “persecution”:

  • physical violence:  beating, assault, handcuffing, rape or sexual abuse, female genital mutilation, electric shocks, invasive physical examinations, forced abortion or sterilization, forced labor, and so on, whether or not this caused serious injuries or long-term damage or required medical attention
  • torture: a severe human rights violation which may involve physical violence, deliberate infliction of mental harm, prolonged unlawful detention, rape and sexual violence, and so on
  • other violations of human rights: for example, genocide or slavery
  • threats of harm: particularly if the threatened harm is serious, caused emotional or psychological damage, or are credible, for example because the persecutor has already inflicted harm on the person or his or her family or others similarly situated
  • unlawful detention: punishment for a regular crime is not persecution, but if the person is detained without due process or formal charges or for discriminatory or political reasons, this may rise to the level of persecution, particularly if the detention was combined with mistreatment
  • infliction of mental, emotional, or psychological harm: this can include intimidation, surveillance, interference with privacy, long-term threats, or being forced to engage in conduct that is not physically painful or harmful but is abhorrent to the person’s deepest beliefs
  • substantial economic discrimination or harm: for example, deliberate deprivation of food, housing, employment, or other life essentials, or ransacking, destruction, or confiscation of property
  • other discrimination or harassment: for example, passport denial, pressure to become an informer, or restrictions on access to education; also, some applicants may need to show a combination of actions against them if none by themselves was serious to fit traditional understandings of persecution.

Who was doing the persecuting?

In order to meet the asylum or refugee standard, the persecution must have been inflicted by either your country’s government or other authorities or groups that the government is unable to control, such as guerrillas, warring tribes or ethnic groups, or organized vigilantes.

Why were you persecuted?

The persecution must have been based on at least one of five grounds: your race, religion, nationality, political opinion, or membership in a particular social group. It will be crucial to your case that you and your Miami asylum attorney determine which of these categories you fit into, and show a connection (“nexus”) between the persecution and one of them.

What are the five grounds of persecution, and why are they important?

The United States will not grant asylum or refugee status to a person who has not suffered or does not fear persecution that is based on one of five grounds. They are the following:

1. Race is used in the broadest sense and includes ethnic groups and social groups of common descent.

2. Religion also has a broad meaning, including identification with a group that tends to share common traditions or beliefs, as well as the active practice of religion.

3. Nationality includes an individual’s citizenship. Persecution of ethnic, linguistic and cultural groups within a population also may be termed persecution based on nationality.

4. A particular social group refers to people who share a similar background, habits or social status. This category often overlaps with persecution based on one of the other four grounds. It has applied to families of capitalists, landowners, homosexuals, entrepreneurs and former members of the military.

5. Political opinion refers to ideas not tolerated by the authorities, including opinions critical of government policies and methods. It includes opinions attributed to individuals (i.e., the authorities think a person has a certain political opinion) even if the individual does not in fact hold that opinion. Individuals who conceal their political opinions until after they have fled their countries may qualify for refugee status if they can show that their views are likely to subject them to persecution if they return home.

If you think you’re eligible for aslyum or refugee status, or would like more information on this topic, please contact Miami immigration attorney Michael G. Murray, Esq. at (305)895-2500 or visit our website at www. 

Coronavirus update: We are safely open for business! USCIS is still accepting new filings for all applications. Our office is offering virtual consultations for new clients so that you don't have to come to our office in person. Call us to schedule your virtual meeting today.
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