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article imageRefugees in the United States — The asylum seekers Special

By Karen Graham     Apr 18, 2016 in Politics
The world has always had refugees, people fleeing their home countries because of wars or persecution. We are witnessing this today in Europe and we are witnessing this in Central America, as fear for their lives drive people to seek asylum in the U.S.
President Obama's controversial executive action on immigration in 2014 has been a flash-point with the 2016 presidential race, and now, the U.S. Supreme Court has taken up the legality of Obama's action after Texas and 25 other states sued, claiming the executive action was unconstitutional.
The Supreme Court's decision will ultimately affect the lives of close to four million people, most of them living in a sort of limbo, their lives put on hold because Obama's executive action was put on hold in all 50 states. Digital Journal wanted to learn more about the people under threat of deportation. Who are they and why do they want to live and work in this country?
The life of an Immigration Lawyer
Last Saturday, Digital Journal met with Mr. Sacha Shaygan. He is a practicing immigration lawyer in Richmond, Virginia. Shaygan has practiced law for several years, and when I asked him what had drawn him to the practice of immigration law, he had a very passionate response.
As a law clerk, Shaygan says he worked with an immigration lawyer, and as a law clerk, it was his job to look up past cases that dealt with immigration, asylum, and refugee laws. The more he learned, the more he wanted to learn because the statutes governing these laws also have an historical background, dating back to World War II.
Shaygan gave Digital Journal a condensed version of the refugee and asylum laws we have in the United States. He explained that most countries in the world have laws on refugees and asylum seekers that relate to an international treaty known as the Convention relating to the Status of Refugees or the 1951 Refugee Convention.
According to the 1951 convention, a refugee is defined as a "person who is outside their country of citizenship because they have well-founded grounds for fear of persecution because of their race, religion, nationality, membership in a particular social group or political opinion." Shaygan pointed out that for many asylum seekers, the fact that there is a well-founded fear of persecution is one of the most common reasons to seek asylum today.
Shaygan told Digital Journal that while he will take on and help clients from any country who are seeking asylum, most of his work has been with people from Central America. When asked to explain the reason, Shayhan reminded this writer of the history of conflict in Central America.
From 1975 to 1982, civil war in El Salvador displaced over one million people, with almost half settling in the U.S. Then Guatemala went through a civil war in the 1980s, with many people fleeing to the U.S. We can add Haiti and Cuba to the list of countries where people fled for their lives, in many cases.
Today, we still have Central Americans seeking asylum and refugee status because of civil war in their countries. Columbia is a good example, says Shaygan. But he adds that the drug cartels and the violence associated with warring gangs are also driving people out of many countries. He gave an example, describing a family that fled because the son was told that if he didn't work for the local cartel, his family would be killed.
How easy is it to get asylum or refugee status?
Digital Journal asked how difficult it was to acquire a work permit and driver's license, and was surprised to learn that it is a really long and involved process. And Shaygan says that many refugees don't really understand the importance of filing immediately for asylum.
There are two paths to asylum in the U.S. The first, called affirmative asylum is for an individual who is in the U.S. or has arrived at a point of entry and has declared his or her application for asylum to the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services. The person seeking affirmative asylum has to do this within one year of their arrival in this country.
In a defensive asylum case, the individual can request asylum as a form of defense against being deported for being in the country illegally. The person may be undocumented or in violation of their status. In either case, to get relief, they must show they have a credible fear of persecution or torture if returned to their country of origin.
The public might be interested in knowing that in 2010, according to U.S. Office of Immigration Statistics, the largest number of asylum seekers, 6,683, came from China, followed by Ethiopia, 1,093; and Haiti, 832.
Once a person files an application granting them permission to live and work in the U.S., they are given a document, a permanent resident card to prove their status. This card is commonly called a "green card." But they cannot apply for the green card until they have been granted asylum, and then they have to wait one year before applying for the green card. In the meantime, they cannot legally work or drive a car.
Shaygan pointed out that you cannot apply for a work permit in the United States at the same time you apply for asylum. A person can apply for employment authorization 150 days after they have filed for asylum and if no decision has yet been made on their status. This DJ writer couldn't help commenting that the process seemed to be very complicated. Sacha said that is the reason refugees really need the help of a lawyer to guide them through the process.
How long does it take to get asylum in the U.S.?
This writer told Sacha she felt that most Americans would find it difficult to believe the amount of paperwork involved. But Sacha explained that all that paperwork was only a part of the process. He said it can take up to five years to get legal asylum and can cost the individual $5,000 or more. But this fee involves literally walking the applicant through the judicial process, and then, Shaygan said, there is no guarantee that asylum will be granted.
Shaygan related to Digital Journal the long hard journey many Central Americans travel just to get to a country they believe will grant them the right to work and live in safety. Families sell their property, if they have any, borrow from family, friends and neighbors, just to get the money to start their journey.
Once they get here, Shaygan says, they quite often try to find work someplace, just to pay back the money owed to those who helped them, and to live on. More than likely, these people are undocumented workers and unlicensed drivers. The majority of them are law-abiding citizens, although they are not legal residents.
It really is difficult for a person to obtain refugee or asylum status, and added to that difficulty is the language barrier and the constant fear that they can be deported if anyone finds out they are here. This writer made the comment that the people he helps are living in a shadow world, fearful of returning to their own country, and fearful of getting caught here. Sacha said that this is the reason why he is a refugee asylum lawyer.
More about Asylum seekers, Refugees, central americans, us laws on refugees, immigration lawyer
 
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