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Asylum applications are filed to avail of protection by the United States if one is being persecuted or if one fears that he/she is going to be persecuted “due to race, religion, political opinion, nationality or membership in a particular group” in the country of origin.

Asylum is sought by aliens already present in the United States. If an alien is outside of the U.S., a refugee status is applied for.  Under President Trump’s revised executive order dated March 6, 2017, the processing of asylum and refugee-visa applications has been suspended due to national security reasons. Citizens from six countries – namely Iran, Syria, Libya, Yemen, Somalia, Sudan – are covered by the executive order.

These countries are designated as “state sponsor of terrorism,” active combat zones of groups known as “extremists” and/or considered as “safe havens” of terrorists. 

Terrorism has become a worldwide concern.  Many violent attacks occurring around the world are done in the name of terrorism. Infiltration by terrorists of some groups has become so complicated that the vetting process by the government has to be reviewed and reassessed for efficacy and potency.

Nationals from the six countries are adversely affected by the suspension of the processing of asylum or refugee status applications. (Waiver is available on a case-to-case basis).  Except the nationals from the six countries, nationals of other countries still have the option to seek asylum and apply for refugee status in the U.S.

Asylum and refugee status can pave the way to gaining U.S. citizenship. The U.S. has always been a benevolent country.  It is not only welcoming of aliens who seek  bright future but is also willing to grant protection to aliens whose lives are in peril due to their beliefs and positions. This is in pursuance of the deeply rooted principles that are the cornerstones of its immigration process. These principles are freedom of religion and expression and feedom from persecution.

This is the crux of seeking asylum and refugee status. Related visa applications such as withholding of removal or protection under the U.S. Convention Against Torture (CAT) can be availed of if the applicant is in the U.S.

These alternative options can be applied for together with asylum. Although the requisites are higher, the grant is mandatory once the requirements are complied with.  But withholding of removal or protection under the U.S. Convention against Torture (CAT) does not allow the filing of green card applications. Allowed only is the permission to remain and work in the U.S.

It is based on rules of the United Nations Convention relating to the status of refugees. Under the rules, no refugee should be removed to a country where his/her life or freedom is threatened on account of race, religion, nationality, political opinion or membership in a particular social group.

We recall that famous people such as Albert Einstein, Sigmund Freud and Marie Curie sought refuge in the U.S. and became renowned for their accomplishments and contributions to science and medicines.

The Senator Benigno “Ninoy” Aquino would have sought asylum when he and his family were allowed to leave the Philippines in 1980 and come to the U.S. for medical reasons. He was incarcerated and sentenced to death on charges of murder, illegal possession of firearms and subversion during the martial-law regime.

Ninoy was a staunch critic of then President Marcos. But he did not seek asylum because of his love of his country. In an undelivered speech (he was assassinated at the tarmac of the then Manila International Airport on Aug. 21, 1983, he said, “I could have opted to seek political asylum in America, but I feel it is my duty, as it is the duty of every Filipino, to suffer with his people especially in time of crisis.”

Ironically, when the Marcoses fled to Hawaii in 1986, they applied for and were granted asylum by the United States.