On applying for asylum in the U.S.
Image Courtesy of Philippine Star

Back in the 70s and early 80s when the National People’s Army (NPA) and other communist organizations were a potent disruptive force in Philippine society, aggravated by the reality that the country was under martial rule, seeking asylum in the United States was an option available to Filipinos who were at odds with either the government or the rebels or both.

They sought asylum because their political affiliations were causing them and their families imminent danger or threat to their lives, and so they had to seek refuge in another country such as the United States. Not all who petitioned were granted asylum. Only those with meritorious cases backed by solid evidence were given asylum.   

On this day and age, however, seeking asylum, based on socio-political events that happened 30 years ago – due to fear of being persecuted because of one’s affiliation with the NPA or other anti-government dictatorial groups – is already a thing of the past. In fact, the era in Philippine history when there was an imminent threat of being eventually placed under a communistic rule or continuously to be governed by an autocratic, dictatorial form of government under the Marcos regime, has long been gone.

But at present, there is a new wave of fear gripping Filipinos. This is triggered by recent news reports of: (a) widespread “unaccounted-for” killings all over the nation attributable to the national “war on drugs”; (b) a growing influx of ISIS members (“anti-western militant group” working on the building a unified Islamic state) labeled as  “terrorists” influence in Mindanao, a region that is predominantly Muslim; and (c) the threat of the Philippine president to declare martial law order due to violent, disruptive events plaguing the country.

Due to these prevailing circumstances, is seeking asylum an option for those who fear of persecution or torture or are under the constant fear of being killed, tortured or persecuted because of the unfounded belief that he/she is affiliated with a drug cartel or family?

Asylum is sought from the United States if one is being persecuted or the asylum seeker fears that he/she will be persecuted “due to race, religion, political opinion, nationality or membership in a particular group” in the country of origin.

It is akin to applying to become a refugee in the U.S. The difference is that asylum is applied for when one is physically present in the US. A refugee status is applied for when he/she is out of the country.  Both applications for refugee status or asylum have very stringent rules to comply with.

As in all other applications for immigration benefits, the standard rule applies: Do not ever lie.  Asylum applications are scrutinized extensively. One has to file the application within one year from date of entry to the U.S.

Asylum is a known relief, but there are two other reliefs that could be applied for when asylum applications are submitted – that is withholding of removal and protection under the U.S. Convention Against Torture (CAT).  These two alternatives do not require that the application should be filed within one year from the date of entry. There are other advantages for these alternative reliefs. These will also allow applicant, if granted, to stay in the U.S., but no path to citizenship is available to them.

For nationals of other countries specifically picked by the U.S. government to be qualified for these benefits, such as Honduras, El Salvador and Nicaragua, other reliefs are also available for those already present in the U.S. or applying at the port of entry in order to remain in the U.S. temporarily. They could file an application for temporary protected status (TPS) while in the U.S.

Asylum seekers (as well as refugees) are provided with a path to citizenship if the application is granted.  They are allowed to apply for the same privileges for their spouse and children, such as a green card and, eventually, U.S. citizenship. If facts support an application for asylum, it is worth the try.