Refugee Status in the US

Every year, the President of the United States will send a proposal to the Congress for the maximum number of refugees that can be admitted into the US for the upcoming fiscal year, as specified under the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA). This number is also known as the "refugee ceiling". Every year refugee advocates seek to raise the number whereas anti-immigration groups want to reduce it. Whatever their claims may be, once proposed, the refugee ceiling is normally accepted without substantial Congressional debate.

After the September 11, 2001 attacks, there was a substantial disruption to the processing of resettlement claims with admissions falling to about 26,000 in the year 2002. All refugee claims were double checked for any suspicious activity and strict procedures were put in place to detect any possible terrorist infiltration to the country. Given the ease with which foreigners can otherwise legally enter the US, entry as a refugee is comparatively unlikely. The number of admitted refugees increased in subsequent years with the refugee ceiling for the fiscal year 2006 put at 70,000. These numbers however are still among the lowest in 30 years.

The applications submitted by individuals who have already entered the US are judged on whether they fulfill the US definition of a "refugee" and on many other criteria (including many bars that would prevent an otherwise-eligible refugee from receiving protection). There are two ways to apply for asylum while in the US

If an asylum seeker has been ordered for removal before an immigration judge with an Office that is a part of the Department of Justice, the individual can apply for asylum with the Immigration Judge.

If an asylum seeker is inside the US and has not been placed in removal proceedings, he/she can file an application with USCIS (formerly the INS), regardless of his/her legal status in the US. But if the asylum seeker does not hold legal immigration status and USCIS does not approve the asylum application, then the USCIS will order for removal proceedings. In such a case, a judge will consider the application. After the Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act passed in 1996, an applicant must apply for asylum within one year of his/her entry or will be barred from applying unless the applicant can prove changed circumstances that are material to his/her eligibility for asylum or establish exceptional circumstances for the delay.

Though there is no right to asylum in the US, eligible applicants have a right to have the Attorney General make a determination as to whether the applicant can be admitted into the US as an asylee.

The applicant should have sufficient proof that he/she is eligible for asylum. To prove, the applicant must show that he/she has a well-founded fear of persecution in his/her home country because of either race, religion, nationality, political opinion, or membership in a particular social group. The applicant should demonstrate that he/she has a subjective fear (or apprehension) of future persecution in his/her home country that is objectively reasonable.

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