Asylum seekers information

Here is updated news and information for asylum seekers coming to the United States.


mother and children in border detention cage
Photo: US Customs and Border Protection

NOTICE: The asylum fee that was due to start on October 2, 2020, has been stopped by a US court decision. But please check fees before sending in your application.

July 23, 2020 – The Canadian Federal Court says it is not safe for Canada to send asylum seekers back to the United States.

Read more about this ruling and what it means for asylum seekers.

July 13, 2020 – The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) is proposing new rules to stop asylum applications.

new rule published on June 15 will allow judges to make a decision about an asylum seeker’s case without a hearing. It will also allow new reasons for claims to be denied and it will require more proof of violence or threats.

A new rule published on July 9 says that asylum applications can be turned down if the applicant may have been exposed to COVID-19. This rule would allow the USA to quickly deport asylum seekers even if they would otherwise be eligible for asylum.

These rules are not laws yet, and immigration groups are challenging them. We will update this page as soon we have more information.

June 28, 2020 – The Supreme Court says that the US government can deport asylum seekers without a hearing.

The ruling says that the USA can use the “expedited removal” process for many people who have crossed the border into the USA. Expedited removal happens when people cannot prove that they need asylum. Under the system, asylum seekers can be removed without a chance to appeal in front of a judge.

The US government said in 2019 that it will use expedited removals more. The system will apply to undocumented people unless they can prove they have been in the United States for at least 2 years.

June 22, 2020 – There are changes in the rules about work permits for asylum seekers.

Most of the changes start on August 25, 2020. Here are the changes:

  • Asylum seekers cannot ask for an Employment Authorization Document (EAD, or work permit) until 365 days after they have applied for asylum.
  • Asylum seekers cannot ask for a work permit unless they applied for asylum within one year of the last time they entered the USA. (This rule does not apply once an asylum application is approved, and it does not apply to minors.)
  • Asylum seekers cannot ask for a work permit if they have been convicted of a crime outside the USA; or if they have been convicted of a crime or public safety offense inside the USA; or if they did not enter the USA through an official port of entry.
  • Asylum seekers cannot ask for a work permit just because they have been released from detention. They will have to qualify on other grounds.
  • If an asylum seeker causes a delay in the process, such as changing an application or missing an interview, they may be refused a work permit.
  • Work permits will automatically end on the day asylum is denied by an asylum office. If an immigration judge denies asylum, the work permit will end after 30 days.

There was another rule published that starts on August 21, 2020. This rule says that US Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) does not have to process EADs applications within 30 days. There will be no time limit on processing work permit applications. So if you are an asylum seeker who needs to apply for a work permit, apply as soon as possible.

What do the rules say about renewing work permits?

If you are applying to renew your EAD, you do not have to apply 90 days before your current permit ends. The new rule says that as long as USCIS receives your renewal application before your current EAD expires, you will have your EAD automatically extended for up to 180 days.

March 22, 2020 – The United States, Canada, and Mexico have stopped people traveling across the border.

Travel across the borders with Mexico and Canada stopped at midnight on March 20. Emergency and important work travel will continue. Trade will continue. Asylum seekers will be turned back from all borders. Read the March 20 announcement. Canada and Mexico are also stopping people from crossing borders. Canada will turn back asylum seekers who cross the border from the USA. Read the Canadian announcement.

What does this mean for asylum seekers?

If you come to a port of entry at the US border with Mexico, you will not be able to ask for asylum. If you cross into the United States at any other place on the border, US officials will not put you in custody. They will send you back to Mexico or to your home country. This includes unaccompanied minors (children and teenagers up to age 18 traveling without an adult).

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There has been a change to rules for asylum seekers coming to the United States.

On June 11, 2018, US Attorney General Jeff Sessions said that people fleeing domestic violence or gang violence in their home countries will not generally be allowed to claim asylum in America.

What does this mean for asylum seekers?

This change mostly affects asylum seekers if you are coming to the border between Mexico and the United States. You have probably come from a country where gang violence is making life dangerous. Or you may be a woman leaving a violent home to keep yourself and your children safe. The new rules say you cannot get asylum due to those reasons

It is already very difficult to get asylum status in America. Most asylum seekers are not accepted. The law says you may seek asylum if you have fear of persecution because of:

  • race
  • religion
  • nationality
  • membership in a particular social group
  • political opinion

Even if you coming for one of these reasons, it can be difficult to prove to U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). Read this government page to learn more about rules for seeking asylum.

What will happen to me if I arrive on the border seeking asylum for one of these reasons?
All asylum seekers who are seeking asylum should understand that they may be held by the US government (forced to stay in a detention center) for many weeks. Some people have been separated from their children when they arrive on the border.  Since June 20, this is not allowed. There are groups working in the US to help parents find their children. But there is very little anyone can do to help you or your children if you are already being held by the US government.

What should I do?

You need to ask for a lawyer. In the United States, you have the right to a lawyer, but you MUST ask for a lawyer. You need to say, “I want to speak to a lawyer now.” Keep asking every person you talk to for a lawyer until you are given access to a lawyer.

What if I pass my interview? Will I still be detained?

If you have passed your asylum interview (called a “credible fear” interview) you will get a hearing in front of a judge to make your case for asylum. It can take a very long time to get a hearing. You should be released from detention while you wait.

However, some detention centers are holding asylum seekers even after they pass their interview. On July 2, a federal judge said ICE must not hold asylum seekers after their interview without a good reason.  If you are being held after you have passed your interview, ask to speak to a lawyer.

Have you been separated from your child?

In some cases, children of asylum seekers have been separated from their parents.

If you have been separated from your parent or child while seeking asylum, call the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE)  detention reporting information line at 1-888-351-4024. There are Spanish-speaking operators available and it is a free service. Hours are Monday to Friday  8:00 a.m. to 8:00 p.m. (Eastern Time). If you are calling from inside an ICE detention facility, use speed dial 9116# on the free call platform.

ICE works with the Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR) to locate children. You can also call the ORR Parent Hotline at 1-800-203-7001 if you believe the US government has your child. If you are calling from an ICE detention facility, use speed dial 699# on the free call platform. Available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, in Spanish or English.

You (or your friends, family or lawyer) can also contact ICE or ORR by email:

  • Email ICE at Parental.Interests@ice.dhs.gov
  • Email ORR at information@ORRNCC.com

The information on this page comes from CLINIC, the Department of Homeland Security, the Federal RegisterUSCISand other trusted sources. It is intended for guidance and is updated as often as possible. USAHello does not give legal advice, nor are any of our materials intended to be taken as legal advice. If you are looking for a free or low-cost lawyer or legal help, we can help you find free and low-cost legal services.