Applying for asylum at the border: what to expect

On Behalf of | May 2, 2018 | US Immigration Law

A migrant caravan has been making headlines recently. The group is comprised of asylum seekers from Central American countries—Honduras, El Salvador and Guatemala—which are among the most violent countries in the world. The migrants, fleeing for their lives, have trekked more than 2,000 miles over the last month across the whole of Mexico and are seeking protection in the U.S. President Trump has strongly criticized the group and discouraged them from proceeding to the border. He even threatened to set up military forces along the border to prevent the caravan from passing.

However, today 25 members of the caravan were granted access across the border and permitted to petition for asylum. The group that has been granted provisional admission—as well as the more than 100 remaining asylum seekers who have yet to be admitted—breathed a collective sigh of relief, viewing this event as a hopeful step towards their ultimate goal: to live without fear.

What lies ahead for these asylum seekers is hardly an easy path. After suffering unspeakable trauma and hardship, what can a refugee expect once they enter the U.S.?

Ahead of them lies a years-long process to have their asylum petition assessed—within only a slim chance of being accepted. By requesting asylum at the border, these refugees must submit a so-called “defensive” application for asylum. With such applications, asylum seekers are not given the chance to prove their eligibility through a USCIS asylum interview. Instead, their futures are determined in immigration court.

In immigration court in 2016, around half of asylum applicants with legal counsel were approved, whereas only 10 percent of applicants without legal counsel were approved. Members of the migrant caravan report that some members of their group have obtained pro bono legal representation.

Unlike U.S. citizens, asylum seekers are not entitled to free legal counsel, and it is often challenging for them to get connected with legal representation. However, if an asylum seeker can retain an immigration attorney, it can greatly increase their odds of admission to the U.S.