The Complicated Process of Seeking Asylum in the United States

"Central American migrants sit on top of the border wall on the beach in San Diego during a gathering of migrants living on both sides of the border, Sunday, April 29, 2018" | Chris Carlson | AP News

Edwin Romero worked at a low-paying clothing factory in his native Honduras. In 2017, Juan Orlando Hernandez, then President of Honduras, was running for re-election. That’s when Romero had enough of his country’s corrupt and violent government, and he decided to join the Libre party, which was a leftist party that opposed Hernandez, and Romero started holding meetings for this movement at his home. At this time, Honduras was in crisis. Various protests were taking place throughout the country, because of accusations of voter fraud. Hernandez did win re-election, but Romero continued having Libre meetings at his home, and during one meeting, some men came into his home and beat him and some of the other attendees. Romero reported the assault to the police. And soon after his report, the police began questioning his neighbors about Romero, and they even questioned him. He thought he was safe by telling the police about what had happened, but he soon discovered he was not. Romero was on his way to take one of his daughters to school when he noticed a car was following them; he escaped and got home to pack a few necessities, and he told his wife that they needed to flee the country that same day.1

Current President of Honduras, Juan Orlando Hernandez | Courtesy of The Wall Street Journal

The Libre party that Romero joined in 2017 had been founded in 2011 by Manuel Zelaya, an ex-president of Honduras. Zelaya had been forced into exile in 2009 for attempting to run for re-election. One of the two parties that dominates Honduran politics is the National Party led by President Juan Orlando Hernandez, and his party maintains considerable control over the judiciary and over the electoral institutions. The other party is the Libre party, led by Zelaya, and the Libre party criticizes the opposing party for being too “authoritarian,” yet the Libre party makes secretive deals in which they attain more power in politics.2 After the re-election of Juan Orlando Hernandez as President of Honduras, protests arose all over the country claiming that the election had been a fraud. According to a report from the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), the Honduran government’s response to the protests resulted in serious human rights violations. The report revealed that the Military Police in Honduras used lethal force to control and stop protests, resulting in 23 people killed and 60 injured in the post-electoral protests. Additionally, 1,351 people were detained for violating a curfew placed by President Hernandez, as a response to the protests. Many reports were received that illegal house raids were being conducted by police, as well as mistreatment of those arrested at the time of their arrest and during their detention.3 The report by the OHCHR also revealed that the Honduran police force was only acting on behalf of Hernandez to silence Honduran citizens. Between December 2017 and January 2018 it was recorded that at least six people had a violent death and those individuals had been actively involved in organizing and participated in the post electoral protests and meetings like those held by Romero. What shocked most people was that the deaths of the six individuals were caused by firearms, and the OHCHR obtained information that the perpetrators of one of the killings were wearing national police uniforms, and the families of the victims were subjected to threats and surveillance after the killings.4

Edwin Romero, fleeing for his life, crossed the border with his youngest daughter from Piedras Negras to Eagle Pass on May 29, 2018. He requested asylum at the border but was sent to a detention center where he was separated from his daughter just two days later.5

An overview of the different types of processes to seek asylum in the United States.| Courtesy of Human Rights First

There are four types of asylum processes in the United States: the refugee resettlement process, the affirmative asylum process, the process for arriving asylum seekers, and the defensive asylum process. Edwin Romero went through the process for “arriving” asylum seekers, which means he solicited asylum at the border. One of the many things that asylum seekers must show is credible fear or credible motive for fleeing their country. This is determined at the first interview the asylees go through with immigration enforcement in the United States. Another thing asylees have to do is fill out an I-589 form, which asks for biographical information and the motive for seeking asylum in the United States.6

Edwin Romero was detained for seventy-two days, while his wife and their other two daughters who crossed at a different border, were processed, released, and had hearings in immigration court. Two weeks after being detained, he found Laura Rivera, an attorney who offered legal assistance to Romero. He told Rivera his story and described the abuses he was experiencing at the detention center. Soon they lost contact with each other because Romero was transferred to the Port Isabel detention center without any warning.7

The figure shows the increasing denial rate on asylum cases in the United States. The increase in the denial rate in 2017 is a result of the Trump Administration’s efforts to deter asylum seeking in the United States | Courtesy of the National Immigration Forum

In recent years, the asylum process has become more complicated because of the Trump Administration’s policies to make the Asylum process more selective. The recent changes in the asylum process under the Trump Administration includes the elimination of domestic and gang violence as a motive for seeking asylum in the United States, which gets rid of the ability for thousands of people to seek asylum for those motives. Back in 2018, the Trump Administration introduced the zero-tolerance policy, which was meant to prosecute adult asylum seekers as criminals if they had crossed the border illegally in the past.8 As a result, it led to children being separated from their parents for months. The policy caused outrage throughout the United States and thousands joined protests against ICE to apply pressure to the government and to put a stop to the zero-tolerance policy. A judge that same year signed an order to pressure the Trump Administration into ending that cruel policy. The Trump Administration has used these unnecessary policies to make the immigration and asylum-seeking process more selective and complicated, but it has resulted in many innocent people not having a chance to get a better life for themselves and for their families in the United States.

Romero then met Cielo Fortin-Camacho, another attorney who worked for a nonprofit agency, and she and took his case. Romero did pass his “credible fear” screening, but he wasn’t released or given a notice to appear in immigration court. After that attempt, his attorneys asked for “humanitarian parole” because of his youngest daughter’s heart condition. A Houston surgeon wrote a letter and in it, explained how serious her condition was, that she needed surgery soon, and how important it was for her recovery to have her whole family by her side. After some months, Romero was released on parole and was reunited with his wife and three daughters. Edwin Romero now lives in Houston with his family and has not stopped thanking the attorneys who took his case and the surgeon who wrote the letter that helped with his parole. His attorneys did mention that Romero did everything he was supposed to do when soliciting for asylum in the United States, but they said that he was treated as if he hadn’t.9

Thousands of people come to the United States looking for a better life, to escape from the brutalities in their home countries. They think of America as a safe haven, but in reality, when they arrive to the United States, they are greeted with various challenges that most of the time prevent them from obtaining asylum in the United States. The policies that make the asylum process more selective and complicated should not traumatize and prevent immigrants from obtaining asylum in this country. Most of them spend only an average of fifty-five days in detention centers; however, some spend six months or even more time in a jail-like environment without their families.10 Every system has its flaws, but the injustices lived by immigrants who go through the immigration system are good reasons to justify claims that say the immigration system in the United States does need a reform. Activists all around the country have taken the initiative to fight for immigrants’ rights and have thankfully received a lot of support from many American citizens who want to create change in this country.

  1. Dianne Solis, “This immigrant has a good asylum claim, but the feds took his freedom for 72 days and he wasn’t charged with a crime,” The Dallas Morning News, December 8, 2018.
  2. “Fight and Flight: Tackling the Roots of Honduras’ Emergency,” The Crisis Group, October 2019.
  3. United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, Human rights violations in the context of the 2017 elections in Honduras (OHCHR, 2020), 12-16.
  4. United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, Human rights violations in the context of the 2017 elections in Honduras (OHCHR, 2020), 19.
  5. Dianne Solis, “This immigrant has a good asylum claim, but the feds took his freedom for 72 days and he wasn’t charged with a crime,” The Dallas Morning News, December 8, 2018.
  6. Madeline Holland, “Stories for Asylum: Narrative and Credibility in the United States’ Political Asylum Application,” Refuge 34, no.2 (2018): 1-4.
  7. Dianne Solis, “This immigrant has a good asylum claim, but the feds took his freedom for 72 days and he wasn’t charged with a crime,” The Dallas Morning News, December 8, 2018.
  8. Doris Meissner, Faye Hipsman, and T. Alexander Aleinikoff, “The U.S. System in Crisis: Charting a way Forward,” Migration Policy Institute, (2018): 8-9.
  9. Dianne Solis, “This immigrant has a good asylum claim, but the feds took his freedom for 72 days and he wasn’t charged with a crime,” The Dallas Morning News, December 8, 2018.
  10. American Immigration Council, “Immigration Detention in the United States by Agency,” American Immigration Council, (January 2020): 4, accessed October 22, 2020.

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18 Responses

  1. The government during this time had some right and wrong in this process. Sure limiting people asking for refuge status is not fine but at the same time, it makes sense considering some factors. In this case, he had the right to proceed asylum and his story sounded genuine to be fearful of his own life. At the same time the process should be limited so people with past crimes with like gangs and such, should be taken into account in the process to reject them unless they can really prove in a test that their old habit of gang life can not be seen anymore in the US. The article feels put together and understanding of the current issue from when it was made.

  2. It is very difficult being from a country in Central America because many people deal with poverty, violence from the government and also gangs. It is a shame that most of those countries being so close to the United States are doing so poorly to the point that caravans of people are seeking asylum. Hopefully proper leaders are put into power so that they can end the human rights violations and provide economic stability to its citizens.

  3. Overall, the article was well written and provided a lot of emotion. Stories like these are so heart breaking but important to talk about. The fact that the author gave background information about Honduras while also making connections to Romero’s experience was a smart way to keep the reader intrigued. The flow throughout the article was concise and allowed the reader to easily understand why Romero did what he did.

  4. Wow! This is a great article. I really enjoyed reading it for sure. It is very devastating and destructive to see how many more stories there is like the one of Mr. Romero. The process is very difficult and rigorous. Many of these people are desperate because they have nothing left in their native country. There are migrating over here in search of better opportunities and an improved quality of life. Families should not be separated and treated with such disrespect. This country needs to have better legislation and administration to take care of these people. We need to find ways to help them instead of bring more pain into their lives.

  5. Hi Emilia! Thank you for writing this article and bringing to light a very common issue in the United States with asylum seekers. I really enjoyed your use of graphs within the article as well, to provide a visual representation of the statistics mentioned. It gives a good way to learn more, and really puts the issue into perspective. Great article!

  6. Love how you choose this article. And how well written and it such how much feeling you put into it. It’s so heartbreaking how families get torn apart because there from a different place. Children have been left from there parents and sometimes have to grow without them. Such an amazing article!

  7. It is outrageous to know that the story of Edwin Romero is only one of many. The process to seek asylum is tedious and does not always do a great job of assisting those that truly need it. Especially during the time that the United States was separating families at the borders. It is great to see that Edwin Romero was able to flee his country of origin with his family. Great work!

  8. This article was a really great read! Your inclusion of Romero’s personal experience facilitates the flow of the article and keeps the reader engaged. I have been intrigued by what is considered a reasonable threat to life when people seek asylum since my senior year of high school. What I have found in my previous research of the Honduran caravan is that it is extremely hard to quantify or have a standard for what is considered a “reasonable threat”. I also find it inhumane that governments get to determine whether one’s previous life experiences are threatening enough to be accepted.

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