Asylum is sought for a variety of reasons, including gender and domestic violence, discrimination or abuse because of sexual orientation, and religious or political persecution. No two cases are exactly alike, so we recommend that you talk to a lawyer before you make any decisions regarding applying for asylum. If you think you may be eligible for asylum, get help right away—doing so early may make your case stronger.
We’re available to discuss your case and, if you meet the prescribed criteria, help you find a lawyer for free or provide you with a list of lawyers in your area. Everything you say to a representative of the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights is confidential and won’t be shared with anyone without your permission.
To make an appointment, please call (415) 543-9444.
What is asylum and how do I apply?
If you apply for asylum, you’re asking for permission to stay in the United States because it’s too dangerous for you to return to your home country. In order to apply, you’ll need to fill out forms from the government, and get documents to support your case. But before you send anything to the government or the Immigration Court, talk to a lawyer.
Who can apply for asylum?
In order to apply for asylum, you must prove all of the following:
- That you’re afraid to return to your country
- The government of your country is trying to harm you and/or cannot protect you from the people who are threatening you or have harmed you.
- You’re in danger due to your political or religious beliefs, race or nationality, gender, or sexual orientation.
If you’re being persecuted for a different reason, speak to an attorney to determine if you can apply for asylum. There is additional evidence you may need to show, so talk to a lawyer or call us to obtain more information.
How do I get help with asylum?
The Lawyers’ Committee offers free legal help and can be reached at 415-543-9444. We are NOT the government or Immigration Court and all conversations are confidential and cannot be shared with anyone without your permission. If possible, talk to a lawyer before you make any decisions. If you win asylum, you’ll be able to stay in the United States, get a work permit, and apply for a green card after one year. You may also be able to bring your children to the United States. But, if you do not win asylum, you might be ordered to return to your country. Because of those reasons, it may be better for you not to apply. But, you should make this decision only after you have talked to a lawyer.
What can I do to help my lawyer?
It’s important to trust your lawyer. Everything you tell your lawyer is confidential. If you’re worried or embarrassed about something, talk to your lawyer about it. You can also help get documents for your case. Your lawyer may need your birth certificate, identity card, or letters from relatives or friends to prove your case. If you don’t have any of these documents, don’t worry. You can still win your case without them. But, if you can get these documents safely, get them.
Should I get help from a “notario” or immigration “consultant”?
Many immigration “consultants” or “notarios” are NOT experts and may not be lawyers. Be careful before you pay anyone to help you with your immigration case. Make sure that the person is a lawyer and an asylum expert before working with them. If you’ve been harmed by a “notario” or “consultant,” call the Immigrant Legal Resource Center at 415-255-9499, extension 774.
When should I apply?
You must apply for asylum within one year of your last arrival in the U.S. If you’ve been in the U.S. for more than one year, you may still be able to apply for asylum, but talk to a lawyer first. Tell your lawyer why you did not apply within the one-year deadline.
What happens after I apply?
After you apply, you’ll get a notice from the Asylum Office that will tell you when and where to go for an interview. At the interview, you’ll meet an Asylum Officer who will listen to your story and ask you questions. In some cases, people get their decision two weeks later. The Asylum Office will grant you asylum or it will send your case to an immigration judge to decide.
If your case is sent to a judge by the Asylum Office or if you’re already scheduled to appear before an Immigration Judge, make sure to go to court and bring a lawyer, if possible. You will have a chance to tell your story to the judge. If the judge does not grant you asylum, you can still appeal the judge’s decision, and you are allowed to stay in the U.S. while you wait for a decision.
Will I be able to get a work permit?
If the government takes more than 150 days to decide your case, you can apply for a temporary work permit. You may need to wait several months before you receive the temporary work permit. If you caused any delays (for example, if you asked the Asylum Office to reschedule your interview), you may have to wait longer before you can apply for a temporary work permit. If you are granted asylum, you are allowed to work legally and to apply for a Social Security card.
What should I do if I am arrested by Immigration Officials?
Call your lawyer right away. If you will be harmed in your country, tell the immigration officer that you are afraid to go back and you want “asylum.” Do NOT let the government deport you. You have a right to a hearing. If you do not have a lawyer, the judge will give you time to find help. Do NOT give up your rights.
Can I still win asylum?
If you were caught at the border or ordered to be deported, you should talk to a lawyer. Tell your lawyer everything you remember—for example, did the U.S. government take your fingerprints or photo? Did anyone force you to sign any papers? Were you warned not to return to the U.S.? You may still be able to qualify for asylum, but talk to a lawyer.
Is asylum my only option?
Even if you can’t get asylum, there may be other ways for you to stay in the U.S. if you think you may be harmed in your home country. Ask a lawyer about “Withholding of Removal” and “The Convention Against Torture.” These other options may allow you to stay in the U.S. legally and get a work permit. You will not get all of the benefits of asylum, but both are good back-up plans if you can’t qualify for asylum.
What if I have a criminal record? Can I still get asylum?
The government will deny asylum to anyone who has been convicted of an “aggravated felony,” but not every crime falls under this category. If you have been convicted of any crime, talk to a lawyer to see if you can still qualify for asylum. Give your immigration lawyer the name and phone number of the lawyer who helped you with your criminal case.
It is important to tell the lawyer about all of my arrests?
You may feel embarrassed talking about what happened, but your lawyer needs to know about every arrest to help you make the best decision. If your lawyer does not know about an arrest, it can hurt your asylum case. Please don’t wait until it is too late—talk to your lawyer about any arrest.
Where can I find a lawyer?
For a list of lawyers in your area, call:
- Immigration Equality at 212-714-2904
- American Immigration Lawyers Association at 1-800-954-0254
If you can’t afford a lawyer, please call:
- Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights of the San Francisco Bay Area at 415-543-9444, extension #202
- National Center for Lesbian Rights at 415-392-6257, extention 304 (information only)