By Robert L. Reeves & Nancy E. Miller
Non-citizens fearing persecution in their home country 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 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 shores of this country, 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 asylee is eligible to file for permanent resident status (a green card). After five years as a green card holder, he is eligible to file for U.S. citizenship. However, even after having been granted asylum, a green card, or citizenship, it is possible to lose status as a result of certain actions.
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 asylee status. The asylee may be considered to no longer fear persecution. Worse yet, the asylee 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 asylee 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 & Nationality Act. So, what can one do who has been granted asylum and needs to travel? There are alternative documents issued by the U.S. government with which asylees and people granted a green card through asylum can travel. After one has U.S. citizenship, he can travel with a U.S. passport.
Even with a U.S. issued travel document, the asylee (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 to reach.
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 asylee 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 asylee status, they can be stripped of their U.S. citizenship. The mere fact that one has returned to one’s home country, even after obtaining U.S. 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 asylee, green card or citizenship status is essential in order to protect the protection that they struggled to get.