Immigrants Apply for Asylum in Hopes to Remain

(ESPAÑOL) Immigrants have been rushing to apply for asylum—with cases many are unlikely to win—in order to remain in the country legally for a time.

The controversial tactic temporarily lifts the threat of deportation from undocumented immigrants. The asylum claims also enable applicants to obtain work permits and driver’s licenses while their cases crawl through the adjudication process.

“We are doing more and more of these cases,” said Jerome Lee, an immigration attorney in Norcross, Ga. “It’s an aggressive technique.”

The strategy is hotly debated in the legal community, with some attorneys saying that applicants with bona fide claims are disadvantaged by a backlog exacerbated by those whose cases lack merit. Critics also say many immigrants don’t understand the risks. Other attorneys say they employ the strategy only under certain circumstances.

The U.S. grants asylum to individuals who can demonstrate a well-founded fear of persecution in their country of origin. Several steps, which generally take many years, follow before the government issues a decision. And, if denied asylum, an applicant is placed in removal proceedings, which buys them another several years in the U.S. because they are entitled to due process.

That could backfire, critics say. “You are intentionally putting in deportation proceedings people who’d been flying under the radar,” said attorney Marty Rosenbluth in Hillsborough, N.C. who deems unethical the strategy of filing for asylum with the intent of landing in removal proceedings. “Under Trump, they could be easily deported.”

On a recent Tuesday, some immigrants in the waiting area of Taylor, Lee & Associates in Norcross, outside Atlanta, clutched forms on which they had scrawled “asilo” in Spanish, to describe their case.

Mr. Lee said his firm doesn’t submit frivolous applications, conducts background checks of clients and ensures applicants understand the process.

“Most of these cases probably won’t be granted,” said the attorney. Meanwhile, “at least you get a work permit during a waiting period. And you’re hoping there will be a change of immigration policy and priorities.”

Attorneys charge $3,000 to $10,000 per asylum case, which immigrants often pay in installments.