Asylum Law in the United States

Asylees are refugees who are in the United States, at a land border or point of entry. INA §208(a). Asylees must qualify as refugees, meaning that they have to prove a well-founded fear of persecution based on a protected ground. Persons interdicted in the high seas may not qualify for asylum.

Before asylum could be granted, the person’s nationality has to be determined. Urgen v. Holder, 768 F.3d 269, 272-74 (2nd Cir. 2014). Statelessness alone, however, is not enough to qualify for asylum, but if statelessness is the basis for persecution then it qualifies. Stserba v. Holder, 646 F.3d 964 (6th Cir. 2011).

Persecution is defined as a threat to the life or freedom of or an infliction of harm on those who differ in a way regarded as offensive. Matter of Acosta, 19 I&N Dec. 211, 222 (BIA 1985). Harm need not to be physical to rise to the level of persecution. Borca v. INS, 77 F.3d 210, 215-17 (7th Cir. 1996). Permanent or serious physical injury is not required to establish persecution. Matter of O-Z & I-Z, 22 I&N Dec. 23, 25-26 (BIA 1998). Custodial interrogation, rape or sexual assault, and forced medical examinations may arise to the level of persecution.

The government in the country of nationality must also be unable or unwilling to protect the applicant. Kamar v. Sessions, 875 F.3d 811, 819-20 (6th Cir. 2017).

Protected Grounds

The persecution must be based on a protected ground. The protected grounds are:

The applicant must prove that the persecution was based on one or more of the abovementioned grounds. INS v. Elias-Zacarias, 502 US 478 (1992). These characteristics may be imputed to an applicant. There must be a nexus between the persecution and the protected ground. The applicant does not have to show that the persecutor acted with bad intent. Matter of Kasinga, 21 I&N Dec. 357, 365 (BIA 1996).

Political Opinion

Political opinion requires an active and specific opinion or belief. Political opinion also does not require an active participation in rallies or organized functions. It requires the immigration judge to consider the evidence relating to the country of citizenship. Mandebvu v. Holder, 755 F.3d 417, 428-32 (6th Cir. 2014). Neutrality, however, may not be enough to show persecution. Matter of Acosta, 19 I&N Dec. 211, 222 (BIA 1985). Political opinion, however, may be imputed, meaning that the persecutor assumes the political opinion because of a close relationship. INS v. Elias-Zacarias, 502 US 478 (1992). An applicant, however, does not have to show that she holds the actual opinion.

Membership in a Particular Social Group

A particular social group includes members of a group that hold a common immutable characteristic that could not be changed. Matter of Acosta, 19 I&N Dec. 211, 222 (BIA 1985). The group must be defined with particularity. Matter of M-E-V-G, 26 I&N Dec. 227 (BIA 2014). The group members have a characteristic that sets it apart. Matter of W-G-R-, 26 I&N Dec. 208 (BIA 2014). Family could also qualify as a particular social group. Matter of L-E-A-, 27 I&N Dec. 40 (BIA 2017). To prove eligibility based on a family unit, there must be a nexus between the family unit and the harm. Id.  The Board has denied social group protections based on past criminal activities because they are not immutable. Matter of E-A-G-, 24 I&N Dec. 591, 595-96 (BIA 2008). The Attorney General has referred to himself a case to determine whether harm by private entities to social groups qualifies an applicant for asylum. Matter of A-B-, 27 I&N Dec. 227 (AG 2018).

The social group must be cognizable and articulated to the immigration judge and the Board would not remand a casa e for determination of a new social group. Matter of W-Y-C & H-O-B, 27 I&N Dec. 189 (BIA 2018). Federal courts have recognized the following groups:

  • Members of a clan
  • Domestic violence victims
  • HIV/AIDS victims
  • Mental illness or disability
  • Gang membership
  • Witnesses and family members
  • Land owners

In mixed motive cases, the applicant must show that a protected ground was one central reason for the claimed persecution. INA §208(b)(1)(b)(i).

Past Persecution

If an applicant establishes past persecution, there will be a presumption of future persecution. The government many rebut such finding if 1) there was a fundamental change in circumstances or 2) the applicant may relocate within the country to avoid persecution. 8 CFR §§ 208.13(b)(1)(i)(A) and (B). Once a showing of past persecution is shown, the immigration judge must make such finding. Antipova v. US Att’y Gen., 392 F.3d 1259 (11th Cir. 2004). An applicant does not have to show subjective fear. Nor does he have to show that there was a pattern of persecution.  8 CFR § 208.13(b)(ii)(3). Once past persecution is shown, then there will be a presumption pf future persecution. 8 CFR § 208.13(b)(1)(ii). Such a finding would also show that a person’s life would be threatened for purposes of withholding of removal. INA §241()(3).

Humanitarian Asylum

When the government rebuts future persecution, an applicant may still qualify for asylum based on past persecution under humanitarian asylum. 8 CFR §208.13(b)(1)(iii)(A). Matter of Chen, 20 I&N Dec. 16, 21 (BIA 1989). Humanitarian asylum is not an independent claim for preservation purposes. An applicant may also qualify for asylum if he or she would face other serious harm upon removal. 8 CFR § 208.13(b)(1)(iii)(B); Matter of L-S-, 25 I&N Dec. 705 (BIA 2012). Past persecution does not require persecution if the applicant’s testimony is credible.

Well Founded Fear of Future Persecution

An applicant who does not show past persecution may qualify for asylum if she can show that there is a possibility of future persecution. INA §101(a)(42). The applicant must show that a reasonable person similarly situated would fear persecution. Matter of Barrera, 19 I&N Dec. 837, 845 (BIA 1989).  The quantum of proof may be less that 10% possibility. 8 CFR §208.13(b)(2)((i)(B). The fear has both a subjective and  objective components. The persecutor does not need to presently be aware of the offending characteristic but that he will become aware. Eduard v. Ashcroft, 379 F.3d 182, 192-93 (5th Cir. 2004). Additionally, the applicant does not have show that he fled the country because of persecution, but that he has a claim now. Wiransane v. Ashcroft, 366 F.3d 889, 899 (10th Cir. 2004). Disclosure of asylum status to the applicant’s country may raise an independent claim of asylum. 8 CFR§ 1208.6(a).

A person does not have to show that he will be singled out if there is a pattern of persecution against similarly situated individuals. To establish a pattern, a person must show that the persecutor targets the group specifically for one of the five grounds. Even if there was no showing of a pattern, a person may still qualify if he or she is a member of a disfavored group. Sael v. Ashcroft, 386 F.3d 922, 925-30 (9th Cir. 2004). A person would not qualify if relocation is reasonable. Shah v. Holder, 758 F.3d 32 (1st Cir. 2014). Criteria to determine whether relocation is reasoto nable include 1) whether the person would be harmed in the place of relocation 2) ongoing civil strife in the country 3) administrative , economic, or judicial infrastructure 4) geographical limitations and 5) social and cultural restraints. 8 CFR §208.13(b)(3).

Mandatory Denial of Asylum

Congress has established bars to asylum, where USCIS may not grant asylum but an immigration judge must hold an evidentiary hearing regarding the bar. INA §§208(a)(2) and (b)(2). The bars include:

  • Persecution of others under INA §208(b)(2)(A)(i)
  • Particularly serious crime INA §208(b)(2)(A)(ii)
  • Serious nonpolitical crimes INA §208(b)(2)(A)(iii)
  • Danger to the security of the United States INA §208(b)(2)(A)(iv)
  • Terrorism related inadmissibility grounds INA §208(b)(2)(A)(v)
  • Firm resettlement INA §208(b)(2)(A)(vi)
  • Safe third country under the US-Canada Agreement
  • Previous asylum applicants under INA §§208(a)(2)(C)-(D) unless there are changed circumstances
  • One-year time limit INA §§208(a)(2)(B), (D) unless there are changed or extraordinary circumstance

We understand that applying for asylum and withholding of removal is a serious matter. Your life could literally depend on the result. Call us today for help applying for such relief.

    "*" indicates required fields

    Hiring an attorney is an important decision that should not be based solely on advertising. The information you obtain at this site is not, nor is it intended to be, legal advice. You should consult an attorney for advice regarding your individual situation. We invite you to contact us and welcome your calls, letters, and electronic mail. Contacting us does not create an attorney-client relationship. Please do not send any confidential information to us until such time as an attorney-client relationship has been established.*

    Our Locations


    4815 E Busch Blvd., Ste 206
    Tampa, FL 33617 United States

    Get Directions

    St. Petersburg

    8130 66th St N #3
    Pinellas Park, FL 33781

    Get Directions


    1060 Woodcock Road
    Orlando, FL 32803, USA

    Get Directions

    New York City

    495 Flatbush Ave. Second Floor Brooklyn, NY 11225, USA

    Get Directions


    66 W Flagler St 9th Floor
    Miami, FL 33130, United States

    Get Directions