Recently we have been trying to put true stories behind the names of the thousands upon thousands of immigration documents we translate each month. For the most part, our stories have been mundane and reassuring to anyone contemplating the immigration process. Today’s story is a little different.
Read on for what happens when an immigrant enters the country when claiming political asylum.
The lives of my boyfriend, his family and myself changed radically one day when we were forced to take just a few bags and flee Colombia. Our families, companies and dreams were left behind because we had just become a political target of one of the most violent guerrilla groups that flagellates our country.
Never in doubt that our lives and freedom where in danger, we took our passports with American visas to flee, at least for a few months, our persecution. Our money was invested in our companies and wasn’t liquid, we were receiving death threats, and I was 4 months pregnant. With no more time to get our affairs in order, we hopped on the first airplane to Miami.
Unfortunately, we entered the country as visitors but visitors with no way to return home. The good news was that, while we tried to decide what to do, we were able to obtain state driver’s permits. The bad news was that they expired 6 months later, the same day as our I-94 visitor’s permits were set to expire. The clock was ticking down to either illegal status in the U.S. or an eminent return to Colombian and the guerrillas who wanted us dead.
We hired a lawyer, but his unhelpful advice was to file for an H1 employer visa because we were professionals, or to simply apply for a visa as investors in the United States. Unfortunately, this wasn’t the best option as our liquid assets were tied up back in Colombia and irretrievable. We were watching the count down to our visa expiration date and so far our only two options were not very promising.
That’s why we are so fortunate for our community. One day at church, a friend mentioned that someone’s cousin, who had more or less same problem we did, was receiving legal and social counseling at a local Orthodox church in Downtown Miami. With no time to lose, we went to that church where received legal immigration orientation by some local pro bono lawyers.
It was there we found out that, due to the threats made against our lives in Colombia, we qualified for a legal status called Political Asylum.
From here our lawyer explained to us how asylum differed from other types of immigration, its advantages and how we would go about petitioning for the status of Political Asylees. We found out that only those who were truly in danger due to religious beliefs, sex, gender or political affiliation can apply.
My mother-in-law’s case was the strongest, so she applied immediately. Then they attached her sons, and me, her daughter-in-law (we were married in Miami) to her file.
Then came the difficult part of all immigration cases – the paperwork. Part of the requirement of this case, is that the applicant has to corroborate their request for political asylum with legal, notarized testimonies, political affiliations on paper and so on. Because we were in true danger, we were able to compile all of these documents in less than a month. Three immigration interviews later we just became political asylee of United States. Three years later we got our permanent residence granted and little by little we are now American citizens.
Proving a Political Asylum case in front of any immigration agent is not like memorizing a brochure or a script. It’s an immigration agent’s job to ascertain whether you are really in danger, and they will do so by creating a challenging, hostile environment to try and trip you up.
But, fortunately or unfortunately, if you really suffered the consequences of being persecuted or threatened with kidnapping or death, you can easily describe and tell exact dates, locations and events and witnesses with no hesitation whatsoever. Even then, we were forced to repeat our stories and tell them for different perspectives in order to prove our case.
And the interview is just one small aspect of a political asylum legal case. Federal authorities will investigate all claims made on your legal documents, including about political or religious affiliations and exact names, dates, and incidents.
One word of caution: Asylum is an extremely difficult way to petition for immigration status in the United States. If you have not been unfairly persecuted in your home country, or fear unfair persecution if you return, then applying for asylum is not the way to go. Unfortunately, plenty of unscrupulous attorneys advise their clients to apply for asylum when their cases are likely to be denied. And worse, this can result in denied cases, deportation orders or sometimes even jail time related to document fraud. As a lawyer friend once said, “Most deportations are due to an inept lawyer!”
And finally, if you are granted political asylum, do not try to return to your home country. This is one of the surest ways to be denied re-entry back into the United States. And, if you really were in danger, could put your life and your family’s life in extreme jeopardy at home and abroad. There have been some reported cases of political asylee from my home country, Colombia, trying to re-enter through border countries like Venezuela or Ecuador to divert the authorities’ attention. Unfortunately, these people are often caught by security. Don’t do it!
Political Asylum is a path to immigration in the United States, it’s true, but it was designed specifically to help people who will not be able to return to their home countries for fear of unfair persecution or even death. It is certainly not a way for just any immigrant to try and circumvent the immigration system.