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Asylum Seekers - A Supplement to First Steps, LIRS

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Asylum
Seekers
A Supplement to First Steps: An LIRS Guide
for Refugees, Asylum Seekers, and Migrants
Released from Detention

Edition 2014

DEDICATION
“This guide is dedicated to those who have fled persecution, torture,
and violations of basic human rights and dignity. To the countless
refugees, asylum seekers, survivors of torture and persecution,
and migrants who have exercised courage most humans will never
be able to comprehend: may you find safety, the freedom to
direct your own lives, and a spirit of welcome here in America.”
—Angela Edman, LIRS Staff Attorney

2014 Lutheran Immigration & Refugee Service
Information in this manual may be reprinted with the following note: Reprinted
with permission of the Detained Torture Survivors’ Legal Support Network, a
program of Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service.
For information or bulk orders, contact:
firststeps@lirs.org
LIRS.org
Printed by LIRS Press
Printed in the U.S.A.
International Standard Book Number: 978-0-9908689-7-2	 	

“To all the survivors out there, I want them to know that we are
stronger and more resilient than we ever knew. We survived, that
should be enough but it isn’t. We must work hard to become whole
again, to fill our soul with love and inspiration, to live the life that
was intended for us before it was disrupted by war and horrors, and
help rebuild a world that is better than the one we had just left.”
—Loung Ung, Cambodian-American Human Rights Activist

Started by Lutheran congregations in 1939, Lutheran Immigration and
Refugee Service (LIRS) is a national organization walking with migrants
and refugees through ministries of service and justice, transforming U.S.
communities by ensuring that newcomers are not only self-sufficient but
also become connected and contributing members of their adopted
communities in the United States.

ASYLUM SEEKERS

H

ow to Use This Handout

This handout provides information on rights,
responsibilities, and benefits available specifically for individuals
seeking asylum in the United States. It discusses important issues,
problems, and questions that come up throughout the asylum
seeking process.
This handout provides a short summary of information found in the
LIRS publication titled, First Steps: An LIRS Guide for Refugees,
Asylum Seekers, and Migrants Released from Detention, referred
to here as the “Guide.” The Guide is a much longer document that
provides important detailed information for asylum seekers, as well
as refugees, asylees, and those who are seeking or have “withholding
of removal” or protection under the Convention Against Torture.
Other supplements or handouts will be available for those with
different statuses, such as lawful permanent residents, and those
seeking protection from other crimes, abuse, or human trafficking.

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ASYLUM SEEKERS
If you are an asylum seeker: use this handout to answer questions
and find resources. For more detailed information, see the main
Guide, available at www.lirs.org/firststeps. You should ask your
lawyer, caseworker, social worker, or other expert you may be seeing
for community or social services to use the Guide to help find
resources and information for you. They may already have a copy,
but you may need to show them the website link.

ASYLUM SEEKERS
•	

•	
•	

Important! This guide provides information about the law; however,
you should always consult with a lawyer for legal questions. Do not
rely on this guide instead of seeking the advice of a lawyer.
If you are a provider of legal, social, medical, or community
services: This handout is a reference guide for your clients. Please
utilize the Guide, found at www.lirs.org/firststeps, to help your
clients find more detailed information and resources.
If you are a church or faith-based organization: Please distribute
this handout to asylum seekers in your congregation. Please share
this handout with other churches and religious groups, ethnic
community groups, and organizations in your communities and
networks, particularly those that attract asylum seekers and migrants.
Please also assist us in distributing this handout to homeless shelters,
colleges, and other institutions or organizations in your community
that may attract asylum seekers and migrants. You may contact us
for more copies at firststeps@lirs.org.
For more detailed information on topics that appear in this
publication, please refer to the following sections in the Guide:
•	

Section One: general information and resources for living
in the U.S. as an immigrant, what to do in an emergency,

6

and how to find important resources;
Section Two: legal rights and responsibilities, including
information on legal services, immigration consequences of
criminal convictions, rights when arrested or detained, and
requirements for changes of address, among other topics;
Section Three: basic services and needs, including details
on benefits, healthcare, education, and housing;
Section Four: integration and community support, including
religious and cultural groups, emotional support, financial
tips, and lists of helpful resources.

What is Asylum, and How Do I Apply?
Asylum is a form of protection available to people who have fled
their home country to come to the U.S. To be eligible for asylum,
you must demonstrate that you fit into the legal definition of a
refugee. You must prove that:
1.	 You fled your home country,
2.	 Because you have suffered past persecution or have a
well-founded fear of future persecution, and
3.	 This persecution is based on at least one of five things; your:
a. race,
b. religion,
c. nationality,
d. political opinion, or
e. membership in a particular social group, and
4.	 Your government is unwilling or unable to protect you from
this persecution.
“Persecution” is a serious violation of your human rights, meaning
you have experienced or are in danger of being killed, beaten,

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ASYLUM SEEKERS

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threatened, tortured, detained, jailed, sexually abused, kidnapped,
or otherwise having your rights or freedoms taken away. Even
treatment that is not life-threatening can amount to persecution
when it happens repeatedly, such as discrimination, harassment,
or being prevented from working, going to school, or owning land.

to include. We highly recommend you find a lawyer to help you,
because the application process is very confusing, and your chances
of success are much higher with a lawyer. If you cannot find a
lawyer, please use the Florence Immigrant and Refugee Rights
Project self-help guide on how to apply for asylum, available at
http://www.firrp.org/media/Asylum_WOR_CAT-Guide-2013.pdf.

There are two ways to apply for asylum:
1.	 You can apply “affirmatively,” with USCIS (U.S. Citizenship
and Immigration Services) only if you came into the U.S.
legally on another type of visa, or were granted parole at
a port of entry, and are not in removal proceedings in court.
In this case, you will submit an application and be interviewed
by an Asylum Officer.
2.	 You must apply “defensively” with an Immigration Judge
in court if you are in removal proceedings, either because
you entered the U.S. without a valid visa (and were likely
placed in immigration detention until passing a credible
fear interview—discussed below), you were arrested for a
crime, or your immigration status expired.
In either case, you must file Form I-589, Application for Asylum and
Withholding of Removal, located at www.uscis.gov/i-589. You will
answer questions about your identity, history, family, and reasons
you left your country. You will write a “personal declaration,” which
is like a story of your life that focuses special attention on the reasons
you left your country and that shows how you qualify as a refugee.
You will also be asked to provide evidence or documentation of your
identity and persecution you have suffered or fear you may suffer.

What Do I Do If My Case was Not Granted?
After you have submitted your asylum application, the Immigration
Judge or Asylum Officer may approve your application and grant
asylum. If your case is not approved, several things could happen,
depending on whether you filed affirmatively (with an Asylum Officer
at USCIS) or defensively (in Immigration Court).
If you applied affirmatively, USCIS may
•	

•	

•	
Important! This handout does not include detailed instructions on
how to fill out your application, and what documents and evidence

8

Refer your case to Immigration Court if they were unable to
make a decision, and you do not have legal status in the U.S.
You do not have to re-submit your application, and USCIS will
give you instructions. This referral will also include your spouse
and unmarried children under 21 who are also in the U.S. without
legal status and were included on your asylum application.
Recommend approval if USCIS is just waiting for your
security checks to clear. Your spouse and unmarried children
who are present in the U.S. and included on your asylum
application will also be included, provided you established
your relationship with them. During this time, you and your
spouse can apply for a work permit. After the security check
clears, you will be granted asylum.
Issue a Notice of Intent to Deny if you are in the U.S. with
valid legal status, but USCIS does not believe you are eligible
for asylum. You will have 16 days to appeal by explaining

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ASYLUM SEEKERS

•	

in writing why the claim should be granted or submitting
new evidence to support the claim, or both.
Issue a final Notice of Intent to Deny if you did not submit
your appeal within 16 days, or your reasons did not prove
you were eligible for asylum.

If you applied defensively:
•	

•	

•	

The Immigration Judge may deny your case if he
believes that you are not eligible for asylum. At the end
of your hearing, the judge will ask if you want to appeal
the decision. It is important that you say “yes.” The judge
will then give you paperwork with instructions on how to
appeal your case to the Board of Immigration Appeals
(BIA). You must file this paperwork to appeal within 30
days, or you will lose the right to appeal. This is a very
difficult process, and you should see an attorney for help.
Also see the Florence Project’s guide to appealing your
case at www.firrp.org/media/BIA-Appeal-Guide-2013_
new-BIA-address-2013.pdf.
If you already appealed with the BIA, and the BIA denied
your claim as well, you may be able to appeal to a U.S.
Circuit Court of Appeals. See a lawyer for help with this.
Just as you have 30 days to appeal if you disagree with the
judge’s decision, the Immigration and Customs Enforcement
(ICE) government attorney also has 30 days to appeal if he
or she disagrees with the judge’s decision. The Immigration
Judge may grant asylum, but be aware that the ICE attorney
may appeal, and if so you will have to go back to court to
answer to the appeal.

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ASYLUM SEEKERS
Note: Immigration Detention for Asylum Seekers and Credible
Fear Interviews
As an asylum seeker, unless you came into the U.S. on a valid visa,
you were likely arrested at the border and placed in immigration
detention to wait for a “credible fear interview” (CFI). This means
an Asylum Officer interviews you to determine whether it is possible
that you are afraid to return to your country for a reason that would
make you eligible for asylum—in other words, whether you stand
a chance of winning your case before a judge.
Note: If you were previously removed and came back to the U.S.,
were ordered removed but never left, or were convicted of an
aggravated felony, you will undergo a similar process called a
“reasonable fear interview” (RFI), but you must wait longer for that.
	
If you do not pass your CFI or RFI, you may appeal to an Immigration
Judge. If the judge disagrees with the Asylum Officer and decides
there is the possibility of persecution upon your return to your
country, you will be allowed to proceed with your application. If
the judge decides that you do not have a credible fear of persecution,
you will be returned to immigration officials for removal. There is
no appeal of the judge’s decision.
Those who do pass the CFI must then apply for asylum “defensively”
in Immigration Court. If you passed your CFI, it is important to
remember that you have not won asylum, but have been given the
chance to apply for asylum. You are still in removal proceedings,
and must attend all of your court hearings until your case is complete.
If you pass your CFI, several things may happen regarding your
detention while you prepare your defensive asylum case.

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ASYLUM SEEKERS

If you were arrested while entering the U.S. at a port of entry, you
may request release “on parole,” which means you are asking the
government to release you from detention while your immigration
case goes forward. You must have identification documents, and
must show immigration authorities that you have a sponsor or tie
in the community who will agree to provide food and shelter if you
are released; that you will show up to all your immigration hearings
in court; and that you are not a danger to the community.
Unfortunately, there is no way to appeal a negative parole decision.
However, if you have been detained for longer than six months,
contact an immigration attorney.

to deal with the stresses of detention. However, some prefer to
stay in detention, because cases for detained asylum seekers move
more quickly than for those who have been released.

If you were arrested somewhere other than a port of entry to the
U.S., have not been convicted of certain crimes, and passed your
credible or reasonable fear interview, you may request release on
bond. You are requesting that an Immigration Judge release you
from detention while your immigration case goes forward, and
allow you (or a sponsor) to pay a “bond,” or a large sum of money
to guarantee you will show up to your immigration hearings if you
are released. If you show up to your hearings and obey the judge’s
order, the bond will be returned when the case is over. You must
show the judge you are not a danger to the community, and that
you will show up to your immigration court hearings. If your bond
request is rejected, you may appeal. For more information, see the
Florence Project’s bond guide, at www.firrp.org/media/BondGuide-2013.pdf. For information on appealing a negative bond
decision, see the Florence Project’s guide on appeals, starting at
page 12 for bond appeals, at www.firrp.org/media/BIA-AppealGuide-2013.pdf.

Can Anything Prevent Me from Applying for Asylum?
Important! You must file for asylum within one year of entering
the U.S. If you have been in the U.S. for more than one year, you are
not eligible for asylum! There are only two exceptions: circumstances
in your country must have changed such that you are now at risk for
new or increased persecution, or there were extraordinary circumstances
that kept you from applying within one year.

Many asylum seekers wish to be released as soon as possible, as
it is easier to find a lawyer and focus on the case without having

12

If you are not sure what to do, or have been waiting for your CFI
for more than 14 days, ask immigration detention officials for the
list of free or low-cost immigration lawyers, and contact one.
Unfortunately, those awaiting RFIs must often wait several months.
For more information on the credible fear process, see the Florence
Project’s guide, at: http://www.firrp.org/media/CF-RF-Guide-2013.pdf.

You will be ineligible for asylum if you:
•	
•	
•	
•	
•	
•	
•	

missed the one year filing deadline (with the few exceptions),
have committed or been convicted of an aggravated felony,
have committed or been convicted of a particularly serious
crime in the U.S. and are a danger to the community,
have strong ties to another country and have been firmly
resettled there,
have ever persecuted another person based on their race,
religion, nationality, political opinion, or particular social group,
committed a serious, non-political crime in your country, or
are considered a terrorist or otherwise dangerous to the U.S.

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ASYLUM SEEKERS

ASYLUM SEEKERS

If you missed the one-year filing deadline or have any arrests or
criminal convictions, it is especially important that you find a lawyer
to help with your application.

The same is true for your lawyer or other legal services provider.
Everything you tell your lawyer will remain confidential. It is extremely
important that you be completely honest with your lawyer about
everything, even crimes or other things you may be ashamed about.
This will allow your lawyer to figure out how to best help you.

Am I an Asylum Seeker? What If I Am Not Eligible for Asylum?
You are considered an “asylum seeker” if you have (1) applied for
asylum, (2) indicated a plan to apply for asylum, or (3) indicated a
plan to apply for withholding of removal. Withholding of removal
(WOR) is a form of protection similar to asylum, but with fewer
rights, which you may be eligible for if you are not eligible for
asylum for one of the reasons mentioned above. When you apply
for asylum, you can also apply for WOR at the same time using the
same form. You should do this in case a judge finds you ineligible
for asylum. If you are a survivor of torture, you may also apply for
protection under the Convention Against Torture (CAT). Please see
the Guide for details on WOR and CAT protection.
Will the Government or People in My Home Country Find Out I
Applied for Asylum? Will I, or My Family, Be in Danger If I Apply?
Everything you tell the U.S. government about your reasons for
seeking asylum, past persecution you faced, future persecution
you fear, or family members who remain in your home country, is
confidential. This means the U.S. government will not communicate
with people or the government in your home country, or anyone
else, about your application. It is important to be completely honest
and tell your story to the U.S. government when you apply, because
if the government finds out you were dishonest, you could lose
your case. If you feel afraid to speak about things that happened
to you, explain this to your lawyer and your Asylum Officer or
Immigration Judge, but make sure you answer all their questions
fully and honestly, or your case could be in danger.

14

How Do I Find a Good Lawyer?
Applying for asylum is difficult and confusing, and it is best to find
a lawyer (also called an attorney), or a BIA accredited representative.
BIA accredited representatives (also called BIA representatives) are
not lawyers, but are approved as immigration experts by the Board
of Immigration Appeals, which is part of the U.S. Immigration Court
system. Legal services for asylum seekers are often available for
less money, or sometimes for free.
How Do I Avoid Immigration Scams and False Legal Advice?
Be careful. There are many people who pretend to be immigration
experts or lawyers. They target immigrants who are in desperate
need of legal help by promising fast results, charging a lot of
money, but then sometimes doing nothing or filling incorrect
paperwork. This can put your case in real danger. It can be difficult
to tell the difference between this type of fraud or scam, and real
immigration legal service providers. It is important to make sure
the person helping you is either an immigration lawyer or a BIA
accredited representative.
Unfortunately, many times false information can come from inside
immigrant communities as well. False information and rumors about
how to apply for asylum or other benefits such as a Social Security
card or work permit, or what to say in your asylum application, spread
through immigrant communities. Many times, other immigrants will

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instruct you to lie, leave out important information, or tell specific
stories to judges, Asylum Officers, or lawyers. Following this advice
will put your case in great danger. It is important to remember that
while other immigrants are often trying to help you, they may also
have been given false information, and you should only take
immigration advice from a legitimate legal services provider.

ASYLUM SEEKERS
•	

•	
The U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) website has
very important information on scams.
•	
•	
•	

For general information on how to avoid scams, see http://
www.uscis.gov/avoid-scams.
For tips on how to identify common scams, see www.uscis.
gov/avoid-scams/common-scams.
For tips on finding authentic legal services, see www.uscis.
gov/avoid-scams/find-legal-services.

•	

How Can I Identify Fraud or Scams?
•	
•	

Know the names of important government agencies. You
should only receive communication from the following
government agencies about your case:
o The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) is the
federal agency that oversees immigration. Within DHS,
U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) is in
charge of immigration services, Immigration and
Customs Enforcement (ICE) enforces immigration laws
within the U.S., and Customs and Border Protection
(CBP) enforces immigration laws at the border.
o The Executive Office of Immigration Review (EOIR) is
within the Department of Justice (DOJ), and is in charge
of the immigration court system.

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•	

•	

Criminals may call you pretending to be from the IRS or
another government agency, and may say you owe the
government money and must pay immediately or you will
be sued or deported. This is a scam. Do not send money,
or give your social security number or personal information
to anyone you do not know over the phone.
Listen for references to INS (Immigration and Naturalization
Services). Some scammers say they are from the INS, or can
help you with an INS application. The INS no longer exists,
so this is a scam.
If someone contacts you by phone claiming to be a USCIS
officer calling to report a problem with your application, and
asks for payment or personal information such as your A-number
or Social Security number, this is likely a scam. Hang up, and
do not give them any information or money. If you are not sure
if USCIS called you, hang up and make an Infopass appointment
to report the phone call and ask if USCIS tried to contact you.
You can do this by visiting https://infopass.uscis.gov/.
Don’t accept offers of legal help from notario publicos. In
some Latin American countries, notario publicos (notaries
public) are attorneys. In the U.S., notaries public are not
lawyers and have no legal training; they only are approved
to witness official document signing. Some notarios count
on immigrants not knowing this, and pretend they have
legal expertise. Do not see a notario for immigration help.
Local businesses sometimes advertise that they can get you
asylum, a green card, a work permit, or other benefits more
quickly than if you applied directly to USCIS, if you pay them
a higher fee than USCIS charges. This is a scam.
Some dot-com websites offer instructions and USCIS forms
for a fee. Some also pretend to be part of USCIS. Never
pay to download a form, because you can download them

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•	

for free on the official USCIS website. Remember the USCIS
website ends with “.gov,” not “.com.”
Beware of visa lottery emails. You may get emails claiming
you won the diversity visa lottery or green card lottery, or
that someone can help you win for a fee. These scams are
increasing, especially for people who have applied for the
visa lottery. The diversity visa lottery is a program that allows
50,000 applicants from countries with low immigration rates
to be chosen each year, and is only administered by the
U.S. Department of State. Visit http://travel.state.gov/
content/visas/english/immigrate/diversity-visa.html for
information if you have applied.

Other Tips to Avoid Fraud and Scams
Even if you are very careful, you may still fall victim to a scam. Or
you may receive services from an inexperienced or careless lawyer
or representative who makes mistakes that could harm your case,
such as failing to tell you about application deadlines. Be sure to
take the following steps while working with any legal services
provider, so if mistakes happen, you can show a judge later that
you took all the proper steps to file your application. Tip: A good
provider will encourage you to take these steps as well.
•	
•	
•	

Get receipts with dates and amounts for any payments you
make to any legal services provider.
Ask your lawyer to give you a copy of every application or
document he or she files for you.
Keep a calendar or document in which you write down each
date you visit your lawyer, and what happens during this visit.
Write down each time you call, especially if he or she often
does not return your calls. Make a note of any missed deadlines,
or if your lawyer does not give you copies of applications.

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•	
•	
•	

•	

•	

USCIS will mail you or your lawyer a receipt after receiving
your application. Ask your lawyer for a copy of this receipt.
Keep all documents, receipts, and copies of applications in
a safe place.
Do not sign any blank forms, or sign anything without fully
understanding what you are signing. If your lawyer asks you
to sign documents without explaining what they are, this
may be a warning sign of fraud or bad practice.
If you are seeing a lawyer, you can check www.justice.gov/
eoir/discipline.htm for a list of lawyers who have been
disciplined by EOIR for bad practice of immigration law.
(Note: this website will only list lawyers who have gotten
into trouble.) You can also check with your state’s “bar
association” (which allows lawyers to practice) to make sure
your lawyer is licensed and has not been disciplined.
If you are seeing a BIA accredited representative, you can
make sure the organization is accredited by visiting www.
justice.gov/eoir/ra/raroster.htm and clicking, “Recognized
Organizations List.”

How Do I Find a Lawyer or BIA Accredited Representative?
There are different ways to find an expert to help with your
immigration case. Many organizations provide free or low-cost
representation to immigrants who cannot afford a lawyer.
For a list of free or low cost immigration legal services providers
in your state, please visit the following websites:
•	

•	

AILA (American Immigration Lawyers Association)
Immigration Lawyer Referral Service: www.ailalawyer.com,
(202-216-2400)
National Lawyers Guild, National Immigration Project: www.

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•	
•	

nationalimmigrationproject.org, (617-227-9727)
Immigration Law Help: www.immigrationlawhelp.org (search
by state)
EOIR Free Legal Services Provider List: www.justice.gov/
eoir/probono/states.htm (search by state)

The Guide lists providers by state in Chapter 27, “Directory of
Immigration Legal Services Providers,” and suggests general
resources, including organizations that can help you find legal
services for your specific needs, in Chapter 28, “Important Phone
Numbers and Websites.”
You can find a list of BIA accredited organizations near you by
visiting www.justice.gov/eoir/ra/raroster.htm and clicking
“Recognized Organizations List.” You can also find BIA accredited
organizations by calling your local resettlement agency (see Chapter
25, “Directory of Resettlement Agencies”).
If you cannot find an immigration expert, you can use the Florence
Project’s self-help guide, available at www.firrp.org/media/
HowToApplyForAsylumWithholding-en.pdf.

How Do I Check the Status of My Application?
If you applied for asylum affirmatively, you can check the status
of your case at https://egov.uscis.gov/cris/Dashboard/CaseStatus.
do, or call the USCIS National Customer Service Center at 1-800375-5283. You will likely be asked for your name, date of birth,
A-number, and a receipt number for your pending application. If
you have questions about your application, you can make a free
Infopass appointment to speak to a USCIS representative at
https://infopass.uscis.gov/.

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ASYLUM SEEKERS
If you applied defensively, your case is in Immigration Court and
you will receive updates on the proceedings. If you wish to check
the date of your next hearing, case status, or other information,
call the Executive Office for Immigration Review’s Case Information
System at 240-314-1500 or 1-800-898-7180. You will need your
A-number.

How Do I Prove My Status?
If you applied for asylum affirmatively with USCIS, you will receive
a receipt after filing, which serves as proof of your application for
asylum while your case is reviewed.
If you filed your petition in court, you unfortunately will not receive
a receipt, and it is harder to prove your status as an asylum seeker.
If you need to prove your status to immigration officials, use your
A-number or any court documents or orders from Immigration
Judges, including your Notice to Appear (NTA), the document
explaining why you are being called to court for removal proceedings.
Some asylum seekers will also be able to get an EAD, or work
permit. If you receive one, your permit will have the code (c)(8) for
Asylum Applicant, and you should use this to prove your status.
Work permits are discussed later in this handout.

What Happens to My Case If I Am Arrested or Accused
of a Crime?
There can be very serious consequences if you break the law in the
U.S. Not only can you go to jail, but many crimes in the U.S. that
may not seem serious can make you ineligible for asylum, and
can get you deported—even if you have won asylum and have

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a green card. Some acts that are not illegal in other countries may
be illegal in the U.S., such as physically harming a child or spouse,
following someone who does not want to be followed, or having
sexual relations with a person under the age of 18 if you are older.

will take into consideration the nature of the crime, the length of
your sentence, whether the crime was against a person or property,
and whether your crime makes you a danger to the community.

If you are convicted of an “aggravated felony,” you are ineligible
for asylum. (However, you may still be eligible for withholding of
removal, if you were sentenced to less than five years total and you
can prove to the judge that it was not a particularly serious crime
and that you are not a danger to the community.)
For a full list of aggravated felonies, see § 101(43) of the INA
(Immigration and Nationality Act), which you can find at www.uscis.
gov/iframe/ilink/docView/SLB/HTML/SLB/act.html, or ask a lawyer
or BIA representative. Some common aggravated felonies, which
make you ineligible for asylum if you received a sentence of one
year or more (even if you did not have to serve the full year!) are
Crimes of violence, murder, theft, burglary, rape, sexual
abuse of a minor, firearms offenses, gambling offenses,
fraud or tax evasion, document fraud, failure to appear in
criminal court in certain circumstances, and felony alien
smuggling (bringing other immigrants into the U.S. illegally).

Important! If you have been arrested and accused or convicted
of criminal activity, you will likely need an immigration lawyer and
a criminal defense lawyer. Make sure your criminal defense
lawyer knows your immigration status—otherwise he or she
might advise you to take action that could harm your status. Ask
your immigration lawyer to communicate with your criminal defense
lawyer to make sure they both have all the information they need
to help you the most.
For more important information on what to know before dealing
with criminal issues, while facing criminal charges, and after your
criminal proceedings end, please see Chapter 4, “What Are the
Immigration Consequences of Criminal Convictions?” in the Guide.
What Are My Rights If I Am Arrested?
It is very important that you know what your rights are if you are
arrested. Please read the Guide, Chapter 5, “What Are Your Rights
If You Have Been Arrested?” A brief summary is below.
If You Are Arrested Because You Are Accused of a Crime

* Many drug crimes (even involving marijuana/pot), and
trafficking in drugs, firearms (weapons), or explosives will
make you ineligible for asylum, no matter what sentence
you received.
If you are convicted of a “particularly serious crime,” you are
ineligible for asylum. The law does not define “particularly serious
crime,” but it is up to the Immigration Judge to decide. The judge

You Have the Right to Remain Silent
If the police, ICE, Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), or any law
enforcement agent approaches you for a criminal matter, you have
the right to remain silent. This means that you do not have to answer
any questions until you talk to your lawyer. However, you do NOT
have the right to lie to police or immigration officials. This is a
crime, and could result in your deportation and inability to return

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to the U.S. If you do not want to answer any questions, it is very
important that you do not lie, but instead state that you wish to
speak to a lawyer before answering questions.

How Do I Get My Personal Property After I Am
Released From Detention?

You Have the Right to Be Free From Unreasonable Searches
and Seizures
If the police stop you on the street, an officer can frisk you, which
means pat your clothing to see if you are carrying anything illegal.
If they stop you in a car, they can search without a warrant if they
have a good reason to suspect illegal activity. Usually to search or
enter your house, the police must show you a warrant. If they do
not have one, you do not have to let them in. Even if they have a
warrant and enter, you still have the right to remain silent.

When you entered detention, an officer took your property and
gave you two receipts. Form G-589 describes personal property,
including documents and cash. Form I-77 is a ticket for your luggage
and describes what’s inside. When you left detention, you and the
officer should have checked that you received everything written
on the G-589 and I-77 forms. There are three reasons why you
might not leave with all your property:
•	

What If Immigration Arrests Me?

•	

ICE officials may ask to see your immigration papers. Show them
any ID or papers mentioned above in the section “How Do I Prove
My Status?” If you do not, they may arrest you. Do not lie about
your status, or present fake papers or papers that belong to someone
else. If you have an attorney, request to contact them immediately.

•	

Do not sign anything, especially an “Order of Voluntary Departure”
or anything admitting that you used false identification or travel
documents, without talking to a lawyer first.
If ICE detains you, they may decide to begin removal (deportation)
proceedings, activate an old removal order (if you have one against
you), hold you in custody, or release you. ICE must make this
decision within 48 hours of placing you in detention. If they have
not, ask for a list of free lawyers.

24

You gave a shipping address for large luggage. The address
where your luggage was sent and the date it was sent should
also be written on the appropriate I-77 form.
ICE may keep your original documents in your A-file (the
file with your case information) until your case is over. If your
case is over, ICE may reserve the right to appeal, and keep
your documents through the appeal process.
Something was lost.

If ICE Keeps Your Documents
If you are released on bond or parole before you receive a decision
on your case, ICE attorneys might not return your passport or ID
until after your case is over. They may want to use your documents
as evidence in your case. This can make it difficult for you to access
basic services. Sometimes, your lawyer will be able to convince ICE
to agree to make copies of your documents for their records, and
give you the originals.
If you win your case, ICE may decide to appeal the judge’s decision.
ICE must appeal within 30 days. If you have not been notified of

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an appeal within 30 days, you can get back your documents. To
find out if your case is being appealed, call the USCIS information
hotline at 1-800-375-5283, or check the status of your case online
at https://egov.uscis.gov/cris/Dashboard/CaseStatus.do.

For more details, see Chapter 6, “How to Get Your Personal Property
After You Are Released from Detention,” in the Guide.

To get back your documents, call the detention center and ask for
help. If you remember the name of your deportation officer, ask
for him or her directly. If you do not, ask for the processing unit.
If ICE Sent Your Documents Somewhere Else
If your deportation officer sent the documents to another ICE office,
it may be more difficult to find them again. Ask your deportation
officer to give you the address of the ICE office where your
documents were sent.
Fill out a Form G-884, Request for the Return of Original Documents,
at www.uscis.gov/g-884. Make a photocopy to keep. Send the
completed original form by mail with a return receipt, available at
the post office, to the ICE office that holds the documents you
want back. Call the USCIS National Customer Service Center at
1-800-375-5283 if you do not know the address of the ICE office
that holds your documents.
Get a Copy of Your Medical Record
If you saw the doctor while you were in detention, ask for a copy
of your medical record. If you were receiving medical care when
you were released from detention, they should have given you a
“discharge plan to ensure continuity of medical care.” This is a
written copy of your medical records and what you will need to do
to still receive care after you are released. If you do not have your
medical record, call the detention center and ask them to send the
copy to you or to your lawyer.

26

Must I Notify the Government When I Move or Change
My Address?
You must notify USCIS within 10 days of changing your address.
Otherwise, you could be arrested, charged a fine, forced to serve
time in jail, and possibly deported. To notify USCIS of your change
of address, fill out Form AR-11, Change of Address, which you can
find at www.uscis.gov/ar-11.
If your case is in Immigration Court or the BIA, you also must notify
the court system that you are moving separately. You must notify
the court within five days of your move. You can get the change
of address form from the Immigration Court or online at www.
justice.gov/eoir/eoirforms/eoir33/ICadr33.htm if your case is in
Immigration Court, and www.justice.gov/eoir/eoirforms/eoir33bia.
pdf if your case is at the BIA.
For more information, see the Guide, Chapter 8, “What You Must
Do When You Change Your Address.”

Can I Reunite with My Family?
Unfortunately, you cannot bring your family to the U.S. while you
wait for your asylum claim to be decided. However, you must list
your spouse and children on your I-589, Application for Asylum
and Withholding of Removal, when you apply for asylum. If your
spouse and unmarried children under 21 are already in the U.S.,
you can add them, and they will be included in your application.
If your spouse and unmarried children under 21 are not in the U.S.,

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you may apply to bring them if you are granted asylum, within two
years of receiving asylum.

What Is the Selective Service, and Am I Required to
Sign Up?

If you are granted asylum, you can apply one year later for lawful
permanent resident (LPR) status (a green card). Once you are granted
LPR status, you may apply to bring your spouse or unmarried
children of any age. If you eventually become a U.S. citizen, you
may apply to bring your spouse and children of any age, whether
they are unmarried or married; and you may also apply to bring
your parents and siblings (brothers and sisters) once you are over
21 years old.

All men living in the U.S. between ages 18 and 25, regardless of
immigration status, must register for selective service. This is not
a military draft. Registering tells the government that you are
available to serve in the U.S. armed forces if the government ever
ordered a military draft. However, a draft is highly unlikely.

Can I Travel Outside of the United States?
Asylum seekers should not travel, especially to countries where you
fear persecution, because USCIS will likely assume you have abandoned
your asylum application, even if you tell them you have not.

If you have a Social Security number, go online to register for
Selective Service at https://www.sss.gov/RegVer/wfRegistration.
aspx. You can also bring your Social Security card to any post office
and fill out the Selective Service form. If you do not have a Social
Security number, you must send a copy of your Social Security card
when you get one. When you send it, also put your complete name,
date of birth, Selective Service registration number, and current
mailing address. Mail it to:

If you need to travel for urgent reasons, you must obtain permission
beforehand, called “Advance Parole.” Fill out Form I-131, Application
for Travel Document, available at www.uscis.gov/i-131. Check the
box indicating you are applying for an Advance Parole. If approved,
this will allow you to return to the U.S. after brief travel abroad. You
should consult an attorney before doing this, and should really only
do so in urgent situations.

Selective Service System
P.O. Box 94636
Palatine, IL 60094-4636

Can I Vote?

Asylum seekers cannot join the U.S. Military.

You are not allowed to vote in federal elections. Voting could put
your application in danger and make you subject to deportation.

Do I Have the Right to Work?

To speak with someone from the Selective Service, call 847-688-6888.

Can I Join the Military?

Asylum seekers do not automatically have the right to work. You

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may apply for a work permit, or “Employment Authorization
Document,” (EAD) 150 days after you have applied for asylum. If
approved, you will be eligible to receive your work permit 180 days
after you applied for asylum. If you are given a “recommended
approval for a grant of asylum” before the 150 days, you can apply
for a work permit immediately.

Because of all the problems the asylum clock caused, new rules were
recently implemented to make it easier for asylum seekers to get
work permits. For more information on these rules and getting a
work permit, see Chapter 15, “How to Get a Work Permit,” in the
Guide. The most important thing to know about the new rules is that
a new process called “lodging” allows asylum seekers to submit an
asylum application to the Immigration Court clerk before their hearing,
for purposes of starting the EAD clock only, so they do not have to
wait for a hearing to start accumulating time on the clock.

However, USCIS and EOIR (the Immigration Courts) use something
referred to as the “asylum EAD clock” to determine when the 180day period is up and you become eligible for a work permit. The
clock starts running when you file (or “lodge”—more on this below)
a complete asylum application. It stops running (so days stop being
counted for credit towards eligibility) when you or your lawyer cause
any delay. Once the delay has been resolved, the clock should restart.
Asylum seekers often end up waiting years for a work permit, because
many unexpected and common actions count as “applicant-caused”
delays and stop the clock. Some of these delays are necessary to
build a case, such as asking for more time to find a lawyer, gather
evidence, work on a case; or rejecting an initial hearing date that
you cannot attend. Unfortunately, EOIR does not consider these
delays to be resolved (allowing the clock to restart) until the next
hearing date. So if an asylum seeker is given a hearing in 14 days
and asks for more time to find a lawyer, or the lawyer asks for more
time to work on the case, the court may not schedule the next hearing
for months or even years. The EAD clock does not run this entire
time, so applicants remain ineligible for work permits.

How to “Lodge” an Asylum Application
Not everyone may lodge an application. Only asylum seekers who
plan to file an asylum application defensively (who are in removal
proceedings in Immigration Court), but have not yet done so, may
lodge. You may not lodge if you are applying affirmatively through
USCIS (those who are not in removal proceedings), or if USCIS
referred your case to an Immigration Judge (because you already
have an application on file, so your clock started). Those who are
eligible to lodge may only do so once, and must do so before filing
in Immigration Court. Be sure to lodge your application at the
correct Immigration Court, where your case is pending.
There are two ways to lodge an asylum application:
•	

•	
Additionally, increasing backlogs in Immigration Court have led to
asylum seekers being scheduled for initial hearings months and
sometimes years down the line, which means they have not had
the opportunity to file an asylum application to start the EAD clock.

30

Applicants can take the complete asylum application to
their Immigration Court’s public window and lodge in person
with the clerk.
Or, applicants can lodge a complete asylum application by
mail or courier. If submitting by mail or courier, you must
include the following:
o A self-addressed, stamped envelope (or comparable
return delivery packaging), AND

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ASYLUM SEEKERS
o A cover page, or a prominent note at the top of the
first page of the asylum application, stating that it is
being submitted for the purpose of lodging.
The court clerk will stamp the application “lodged not filed,” return
the application to the asylum seeker, and give the asylum seeker
a 180-day Asylum EAD Clock Notice. The clerk sends notification
to DHS that an application was lodged, and the EAD clock starts.
Important! A lodged application is not considered filed! The
Immigration Court does not keep a copy of the application. You
must still file a complete asylum application in Immigration Court
during your hearing. Lodging is only for the purposes of notifying
DHS that an applicant will be filing an application in the future, so
the applicant can start accumulating the 180 days required to be
eligible for a work permit.

ASYLUM SEEKERS
your asylum clock will start up again if the BIA sends your case back
to the judge to make a new decision. Unfortunately, it still stops
when you lose your case, and does not start again until the appeal
is complete at the BIA, and only if the BIA sends it back to
Immigration Court. If this happens, however, you will be credited
for all the days you lost while your appeal was pending.
Additionally, if you miss a hearing (which you should not do unless
you have an emergency!) USCIS will mail you a letter giving you 45
days to give a good reason. (You still must have a good reason, like
an emergency out of your control.) Finally, judges are now required
to let asylum seekers and their lawyers know the consequences of
asking for case delays for various reasons, and whether it will stop
the asylum clock and delay your work permit process.

Other Important Changes in the New Rules
The new rules made several other important changes. If your case
is “expedited,” judges now must give you an individual hearing
that is at least 45 days past your master calendar, to give more time
to prepare the case, and so you do not have to ask for a later date
and thus further delay EAD eligibility. However, you must accept
this date, or the clock will stop due to applicant-caused delay. If
you lost your case before a judge and appealed to the BIA, now

Other Common Types of Delays
Courts consider many other common issues to be applicant-caused,
which therefore stop the EAD clock. If you delay your case by
getting your fingerprints done late, or if you are in affirmative
proceedings and cannot find an interpreter to bring to your USCIS
interview, the clock will stop. (Although if your case is before
Immigration Court, an interpreter will be provided for you.) If USCIS
or the court requests more evidence, the clock will stop from the
time of the request to the next hearing, which could be very far in
the future. It will also stop if you delay your case by requesting time
to gather additional evidence. Requests to transfer USCIS interviews
to a different office, even if you move, will cause delay. Likewise,
requests to transfer a case to a different Immigration Court can
cause delay; however, the clock will not stop if the two hearing
locations share “administrative control” of the case. The clock
sometimes stops if a defensive asylum seeker “contests the charges
of removability” (that is, if you tell the court you do not agree with

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33

Note: Make sure your application is complete. This means all
questions on the I-589 must be answered, it must be signed, and
must include any supporting evidence as required on the application.
However, you can still submit additional evidence later at your
asylum interview or court hearing if you do not have everything
when you wish to lodge the application.

ASYLUM SEEKERS

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your case, contact the EIOR Office of General Counsel in writing.

the charges against you), or apply for another form of relief, such
as a T- or U-visa.
How to Address These EAD Clock Problems
Although you should try to avoid unnecessary delays, sometimes
such delays are necessary, and offer the best chance for relief, such
as applying for another form of relief. Your lawyer may be able to
argue that the clock should not stop for certain types of delays.
You and your lawyer may take the following steps if you have
problems or questions about the clock:
If you are in affirmative proceedings (your case is before USCIS)
•	

All questions on the EAD clock should be directed to the
points of contact (POCs) at the Asylum Office with
jurisdiction over the case. They can be found on the USCIS’s
Asylum Division’s page on Asylum Employment
Authorization and Clock Contacts, at www.uscis.gov/sites/
default/files/files/nativedocuments/EAD_and_KLOK_
POCs_4_30_14.pdf.

If you are in removal proceedings and are applying defensively
(your case is in Immigration Court)
•	
•	
•	
•	

Address the issue to the judge in your hearing.
If you feel the judge did not address your problem, raise it
with the court administrator in writing.
If you feel the court administrator did not address your problem,
contact the Assistant Chief Immigration Judge in writing.
If your case is on appeal (during which time the clock will not
run) and you believe more time should have accumulated
before the clock stopped when Immigration Court rejected

34

You may find the contact information for the above offices on EOIR’s
Immigration Court Listing page, at: www.justice.gov/eoir/sibpages/
ICadr.htm.
If you think you were unable to get your work permit in the past
because of any of the problems described above, ask a BIA
accredited representative or lawyer for help. Chapter 27 in the Guide
can point you to a legal services provider. You may also contact the
Legal Action Center at asylumclock@immcouncil.org, or the Northwest
Immigrant Rights Project at asylumclock@nwirp.org.
How to Apply for a Work Permit (EAD)
To apply for a work permit, fill out Form I-765, available at www.
uscis.gov/i-765. You do not have to pay for your first work permit.
Submit the following documents:
•	
•	
•	

•	

Copy of your I-94 Arrival/Departure Record
Copy of a government-issued ID, such as a passport or state
ID card
Two identical 2x2 color photographs of yourself, taken within
30 days of the application, with your name and A-number
written on the back.
Evidence you have submitted an application for asylum,
such as:
o A copy of the USCIS acknowledgment mailer you
received in the mail, or any other evidence your
asylum application was filed with USCIS, or
o Evidence you filed a Form I-589 (asylum application)
with an Immigration Judge, or
o Evidence you lodged your asylum application with

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ASYLUM SEEKERS
Immigration Court, or
o Evidence your application remains under
administrative or judicial review.

Can I Get a Social Security Number (SSN)?

ASYLUM SEEKERS
sign the form in person at a Social Security office. Find your local
office at www.socialsecurity.gov/locator. You must also bring original
documents or copies certified by the issuing agency showing 1)
U.S. citizenship or immigration status (including DHS permission
to work), 2) age, and 3) identity.

What Is a Social Security Number (SSN)?
A Social Security number is a 9-digit number the U.S. government
assigns to U.S. citizens and some immigrants. You need it to access
certain government services and to get a job. The government
uses it to track your income from working to determine how much
tax you owe. Be very careful to keep your Social Security card in a
secure place and to not let other people know your SSN to reduce
your risk for identity theft (when someone steals your personal
information and uses it without your permission).

1.	 For a list of documents you can use to prove your status,
view Social Security’s list at www.ssa.gov/pubs/EN-05-10096.
pdf, and see the section “How Do I Prove My Status?” above.
2.	 To show your age, you may submit your birth certificate,
U.S. hospital record of your birth, passport, or U.S.
Immigration document.
3.	 To prove your identity, you must submit a document that is
current, and that shows your name, identifying information,
and preferably a photograph.

Can I Apply for a Social Security Number?
Asylum seekers can apply for a SSN, but will receive a restricted
Social Security card, which will state either “VALID FOR WORK
ONLY WITH DHS AUTHORIZATION,” or “NOT VALID FOR WORK,”
depending on whether you are eligible to work.

For more information, call Social Security at 1-800-772-1213. If you
are deaf or have trouble hearing, call the TTY number, 1-800-3250778. See also Chapter 16, “How to Get a Social Security Number,”
in the Guide.

It can be difficult for asylum seekers to get a SSN, because Social
Security requires two forms of ID, and ICE (Immigrations and
Customs Enforcement) may hold asylum seekers’ passports until
the case is complete. If ICE has your passport or other ID, your
lawyer may be able to convince ICE to make a photocopy for its
records and return the original to you to take to Social Security.

Can I Get a State Identification (ID) Card?
A state ID card shows your photograph, signature, address, birthday,
sex, eye color, hair color, height, and weight. You can show it to
employers, landlords, banks, and other businesses or agencies that
ask to see “photo ID” to prove who you are. Each state makes its own
rules as to whether asylum seekers are allowed to get state IDs. Call
an immigrant services organization or lawyer in your state to find out.

How Do I Apply?
You must fill out Form SS-5, Application for a Social Security Card,
available at www.ssa.gov/online/ss-5.pdf. You must complete and

If you are eligible to apply for a state ID, call your local Department
of Motor Vehicles (DMV) office to know what documents you will

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need to bring. The DMV in your state may be called the “motor
vehicle administration” (MVA) or the “division of motor vehicles”
or something similar.

You will always eligible for the following services, regardless of status:

Depending on your state, you may also be allowed to get a driver’s
license. This will be expensive and will involve taking driving classes
and passing a driving test. You cannot drive in the U.S. unless
you have a driver’s license. You also cannot drink alcohol and
drive while you are still under the influence of alcohol. Driving
without a license and driving while under the influence of alcohol
can both lead to your arrest and deportation. Because it takes
a long time to learn to drive and to obtain your license, you may
want to get a state ID first, and worry about driving later.
Note: If you are eligible for a work permit, your permit will have your
photograph and other important information. Use this as a photo ID.

What Cash or Food Assistance Can I Access?
Unfortunately, the federal government does not make many cash
or food assistance programs available to asylum seekers. Many
asylum seekers find the most help from churches, mosques,
synagogues, or other faith communities or faith-based organizations.
These organizations may be able to help you with money, food,
and a place to stay. Ask people in your community for the names
of community organizations that help asylum seekers or migrants.
Even though the federal government does not provide many
benefits, you should always check with your state, because each
state makes its own rules on who is eligible for state benefits, and
some states have certain benefits for asylum seekers.

•	
•	

Short-term, non-cash emergency disaster assistance
Other non-cash services necessary to protect life and safety
(as long as no income qualifications are required for
eligibility), including:
o Child/adult protective services
o Federal programs that address weather emergencies
& homelessness
o Shelters for domestic violence victims, runaway
children, and the homeless
o	 Soup kitchens
o	 Community food banks
o	Meals-On-Wheels
o	 Medical, public health, & mental health services
necessary to protect public safety
o	 Violence and abuse prevention
o	 Disability/substance abuse services necessary to
protect life and safety
o	 Programs that protect children, workers, and
community residents.

Additional Programs for Families
If you are pregnant or have an infant or young child, you may be
eligible for the “Women, Infants, and Children” (WIC) program.
WIC provides food vouchers or coupons, health care referrals, and
nutrition education for low-income pregnant women, mothers up
to a year after having a child, and children under five years old.
Call 1-800-WIC-WINS (1-800-942-9467) or go online to www.fns.
usda.gov/wic/ to find the office nearest you.
If you have children, you may be eligible for Early Head Start and

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Head Start. These are childcare programs that focus on education,
health, and social development. For more information, contact
your local school or the Head Start Bureau online at www.acf.hhs.
gov/programs/ohs or 1-202-205-8572.

Health Insurance
Medical care in the U.S. can be very expensive. Many Americans
have health insurance, a system that allows you to pay a certain
amount each month to a health insurance company to receive
discounted health care services in return, like doctor’s appointments,
medical procedures, and medications.

If you have children enrolled in school, they may be eligible for
free breakfast and lunch programs, which are offered by some
schools. Contact your local public school for more information or
ask about this when you enroll them in school.

Do I Have Access to Healthcare?
Asylum seekers are also unfortunately not eligible for as many
healthcare options as those who have won their cases, but do have
some options.
If you ever have a life-threatening medical emergency, dial 911
on any phone. Give your name and the address from which you
are calling and describe the symptoms you are having. If necessary,
an ambulance will take you to a hospital for treatment. It does not
matter whether you can pay. Some examples of an emergency are
a life-threatening wound or giving birth.
You are eligible to receive the following medical services:
•	

•	

Medical assistance for emergency care, which includes
emergency Medicaid, emergency room care, and labor
and delivery.
Public health assistance for immunizations (shots to prevent
diseases) and testing and treatment for communicable
diseases.

40

Health insurance also can be expensive. Some states have discounted
programs for people who do not make enough money, called
Medicaid. Asylum seekers are usually not eligible for Medicaid, but
you should check with your state, because each state makes its
own rules. Some states make Medicaid available to asylum seekers
who are children or pregnant women.
Torture Treatment Programs
Many asylum seekers experienced torture in their home countries.
If you have experienced torture, torture treatment programs exist
in many states that provide medical help, as well as other physical,
mental, and emotional treatment programs. The following
organizations can provide information on torture treatment programs
near you. Additionally, please see Chapter 26, “Directory of Torture
Treatment Providers,” in the Guide, for a list of programs by state.
•	
•	
•	
•	

Heal Torture: www.healtorture.org
National Consortium of Torture Treatment Programs:
www.ncttp.org
Torture Abolition and Survivors Support Coalition
International (TASSC): 202-529-2991, www.tassc.org
Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration:
24-hour mental health referral service: 1-800-662-HELP (4357),
TTY: 1-800-487-4889, www.samhsa.gov/treatment/index.aspx

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Options for Asylum Seekers with Work Permits
Asylum seekers with work permits are eligible to apply for affordable
health insurance plans under the Affordable Care Act (ACA), also
called “Obamacare.” The ACA created new health insurance
“Marketplaces” or “exchanges,” where you can compare the plans
side by side. No plan can turn you down for illnesses or medical
conditions you have.

Go to www.bphc.hrsa.gov and type your zip code in the “find a
Health Center” box to find a health center.

You will need to fill out a single application for the Marketplace, and
there are many resources available to help you. You can access the
Marketplace at www.healthcare.gov, or by calling 1-800-318-2596.
The application for Marketplace insurance now appears in over 30
languages at http://marketplace.cms.gov/applications-and-forms/
individuals-and-families-forms.html.
Your state may run its own Marketplace, or it may use the Federal
Marketplace. You can learn about your state’s system and where
to apply in your state at www.healthcare.gov/what-is-themarketplace-in-my-state.
You should get someone to help you review and apply for plans.
You can find help from a Marketplace “Navigator,” or someone
whose job it is to help you understand the Marketplace, by filling
in where you live at https://localhelp.healthcare.gov.

A “Healthy Living Toolkit,” which covers information about
healthcare, hygiene, and physical and mental health, can be found
at www.refugees.org/resources/for-refugees--immigrants/health/.
Additionally, the Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR) has helpful
resources on healthcare for immigrants here: www.acf.hhs.gov/
programs/orr/health.
Dental care is care for your teeth. It is important to make regular
dental check-ups twice a year and call the dentist if you have tooth
pain, because problems with your teeth can cause many other
dangerous health problems, including heart disease. Often schools
where students are studying to be dentists will offer affordable or
even free dental work. Look in the phone book or online for listings
of area universities and colleges that have dental schools or free/
low cost dental clinics. Ask if there are free or discounted programs
for asylum seekers.
If you were in immigration detention and saw a doctor while
detained, it is important that you get your medical records from
detention, and give them to any doctors you see.

Additional Tips on How to Find Healthcare
Federally qualified health centers provide medical care to individuals
regardless of immigration status, and often work on a sliding scale.
That means you pay only what you are able based on your income.

Emotional and mental health are considered just as important as
physical health in the U.S. If you feel depressed, anxious, scared, or
overwhelmed, it is important that you seek help from a therapist,
social worker, or other mental health service provider. The Substance
Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) provides
information about service providers throughout the country. You may
use their online service provider locator at http://store.samhsa.gov/
mhlocator or you can call 1-877-726-4727 (1-877-SAMHSA7).

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To learn more about the ACA, visit www.healthcare.gov/immigrationstatus-and-the-marketplace/.

ASYLUM SEEKERS

ASYLUM SEEKERS

Sometimes people become so depressed, they consider committing
suicide (killing themselves). If you or someone you know feels
suicidal, call the National Suicide Prevention Hotline immediately
at 1-800-SUICIDE (1-800-784-2433) or 1-888-SUICIDE (1-888-7842433). For Spanish, dial: 1-877-SUICIDA (1-877-784-2432).

For more information, see Chapter 20, “How to Access Housing,”
in the Guide.

Do I Have Access to Affordable Housing?
Housing is also very difficult and sometimes very expensive for
asylum seekers. Sometimes churches, mosques, synagogues, or
other faith communities or faith-based organizations have shelters
or homes for asylum seekers. They may also be able to help you
find a room to rent or stay in that is in someone’s home.
Community or immigration services organizations may be able to
help you find housing. Your lawyer may also be able to help. Ask
people in your community for the names of organizations that help
asylum seekers or migrants. Ethnic community organizations may
exist in your community that have specialists who speak your language
and offer help to immigrants. They may be able to offer advice on
housing. Visit www.acf.hhs.gov/programs/orr/resource/ethniccommunity-self-help-grants to find an ethnic community organization
near you, or contact one to ask for a referral in your area.

Can I Access Childcare and Education?
In the U.S., leaving your children at home alone is often considered
“neglect,” a form of child abuse. If you leave your child at home
alone, the state government may take your child away from you.
Check with your state’s child welfare agency to learn the age
requirements in your state: www.childwelfare.gov/pubs/reslist/rl_
dsp_website.cfm?rs_ID=16&rate_chno=AZ-0004E.
If family or friends are not available to care for your children while
you work, Head Start is a federal program that cares for young
children and prepares them for school. Eligibility is based on financial
need. To learn more, see http://eclkc.ohs.acf.hhs.gov/hslc/hs/about.
In the U.S., every child, regardless of their immigration status, has
the right to a free public education kindergarten through grade
12. If you are the parent or guardian of a child under the age of
18, by law you are required to send your child to school. Some
states require school attendance only through age 16. Visit your
state’s Board of Education website for more information.

If you are homeless and need shelter, see www.homelessshelterdirectory.
org/ for a list of homeless shelters in your state.

For more information, see Chapter 21, “How to Access Education
and Childcare,” in the Guide.

If you or your children are the victim of abuse by your partner
or spouse and you are afraid to stay in your home, call the
National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-7233 or 1-800787-3224 or go online to www.thehotline.org.

When Can I Apply for a Green Card or U.S. Citizenship?

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You cannot apply for a green card, or lawful permanent resident (LPR)
status, unless you win your asylum case. You can apply for a green
card one year after winning your asylum case. For more information,

ASYLUM SEEKERS
see Chapter 10, “How to Get Your Green Card,” in the Guide.
In addition to meeting many other requirements, you may apply
for U.S. citizenship after you have held LPR status for five years.
For more information, see Chapter 11, “How to Become a U.S.
Citizen,” in the Guide.
Further Resources and Information
Please see the Guide for more detailed information on other topics
that may be helpful to you throughout the asylum process. For
information on financial safety, including bank accounts, credit
cards, budgeting, and avoiding financial scams, see Chapter 22,
“How to Keep Your Money Safe and Make It Grow.” See Chapter
23, “How to Get Emotional Support,” to find support for difficult
issues and feelings you are dealing with as an asylum seeker. To
find groups in your community that share similar cultures or beliefs,
see Chapter 24, “Religious, Cultural, and Community Groups.”
The following lists of organizations may also be useful:
Chapter 26: Directory of Torture Treatment Providers
Chapter 27: Directory of Immigration Legal Services Providers
Chapter 28: Important Phone Numbers and Websites

If you have any questions, concerns, or comments about this
supplement, or the First Steps guide, please contact the Detained
Torture Survivors’ Legal Support Network at Lutheran Immigration
and Refugee Service at firststeps@lirs.org.

46

ACKNOWLEDGMENTS

T

his supplement to First Steps has been brought to you by
the Detained Torture Survivors’ Legal Support Network,
a program of LIRS’s Access to Justice Unit. This supplement
was researched and authored by Angela Edman, Staff Attorney
for LIRS’s Access to Justice (ATJ) program. Particular thanks go
to the residents of the Reservoir Hill House of Peace in Baltimore,
MD for providing extremely helpful feedback and suggestions
from the asylum seeker perspective.
LIRS encourages printing and distribution of this supplement.
Information in this manual may be reprinted with the following
note: Reprinted with permission of the Detained Torture Survivors’
Legal Support Network, a program of Lutheran Immigration and
Refugee Service.
Printed in 2014

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