Desperately seeking asylum in the United States

On behalf of Eric Benal

Recently, a 26-year-old Nigerian man named Oliver won his asylum case. Officially granted asylee status, he is now free to live as a legal United States resident.

In the U.S., Oliver would seem rather unremarkable – a normal young man trying to build a life for himself. However, in Nigeria, he could be locked up for 14 years under a proposed law that criminalizes any person who is gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender and would penalize any organization that provides services to these citizens.

Oliver came out as a homosexual in 2005 and was an advocate who spoke out against homophobia throughout Africa. His advocacy made his life worse. He even contemplated suicide after being locked up in his church with an angry mob outside.

In July 2012 Oliver came to the U.S. for the International AIDS Conference. While he was here he sought asylum and a few months later found out that the U.S. government had granted it.

Defining “asylee”

To be eligible for asylum, an applicant must first meet the definition of refugee. The definition is laid out in the Immigration and Nationality Act as “a person who is unable or unwilling to return to his or her country of nationality because of persecution or a well-founded fear of persecution because of race, religion, nationality, membership in a particular social group or political opinion”.

The wording of the definition is very important, because a person seeking asylum will need to demonstrate that they fit into one or more of the protected classes as defined in the statute.

People eligible for asylum

The U.S. Department of Homeland Security reports that in 2011 there were a total of 36,492 individuals who were granted asylum. Almost half of these asylees escaped from China, Venezuela and Ethiopia. Interestingly, U.S. immigration laws do not set a numerical limit on the number of people who can be awarded asylum in the United States each year.

Cases such as Oliver’s, where people are being persecuted for sexual orientation or for being transgender or HIV-positive, have been recognized by U.S. Immigration since 1994.

In many cases, an immigration attorney can help an individual seeking asylum to determine whether their circumstances fit the parameters defined by the U.S. government. They can also clarify on what grounds asylum status can be terminated. They include a fundamental change in circumstances that eliminates the asylee’s well-founded fear of persecution, the asylee obtaining protection from another country or the asylee committing certain crimes that make him ineligible to retain asylum status in the U.S.

Abstract: The United States government grants asylum to those who have fled their own country due to fear of persecution. In the past 19 years the requirements for asylum have broadened.