Legal Assistance for Political Asylum Seekers
By the Asylum Program of Southern Arizona (APSA)
The Difference Between Refugees and Asylum Seekers
Refugees and asylum seekers request save haven in the United States and other countries because they fear persecution in their homelands. A refugee applies for protection while outside the U.S. An asylum seeker first comes to the U.S. and, once here, applies for protection.
Who is eligible for political asylum in the US
Immigrants who are in the U.S. may request asylum if they have been persecuted or have a well-founded fear of persecution in their home country because of their race, religion, nationality, membership in a particular social group or political opinion. The burden is on asylum seekers to prove they fit the definition of a political refugee. Barring extraordinary circumstances or changed conditions in their home countries, protection seekers must request asylum within one year of entering the U.S.
Those who have participated in the persecution of others or committed serious crimes are not eligible for asylum.
Why is APSA needed?
The Arizona/Mexico border has long been a crossing point for refugees from around the world who flee political persecution. In the first year (1999), APSA assisted asylum seekers from Africa, the Middle East, Northern Ireland and Latin America. About 75% of their clients are women and children and are among the most vulnerable of immigrants. A growing number of APSA's cases include women who have been brutally persecuted because of their gender or political opinions. Most do not speak English and are unfamiliar with the complicated political asylum process. Many suffer post-traumatic stress from the persecution they have endured or witnessed. Undocumented asylum seekers cannot legally work to support themselves and are at constant risk of being arrested by U.S. Border Patrol and forced to return to the repression they have fled.
Without competent legal assistance, their odds of being granted asylum are very small. Only about 25% of the asylum requests filed in the United States by immigrants of the same nationalities represented by APSA are approved. Those without an attorney to represent them in the very complex legal process are even less likely to be granted asylum. Ignorance of asylum law can easily lead to disqualification and deportation.
APSA is the only organization in southern Arizona providing legal aid for non-detained, indigent refugee families seeking asylum. They also refer their clients to the Hopi Foundation Center for the Prevention and Resolution of Violence, an internationally known and highly regarded organization that provides medical and emotional care as well as practical solutions for their unique needs.
Revised April 2003