If you are under 18 years old and entered the U.S. alone, without your family, you have several options to obtain legal immigration status in the U.S. and stay in the U.S. to live long-term.
Children without lawful status who enter the United States alone (Unaccompanied Minor), without their parents or a legal guardian, and are encountered by immigration officials, are generally taken into custody by the Office of Refugee Resettlement. The law provides certain protections to unaccompanied children (UACs) to ensure that they are provided numerous safeguards and due process rights in the United States while their cases progress through the immigration court system. Many children are forced to flee their home countries because of rampant gang violence, domestic violence, child abuse, and/or extreme poverty conditions.
You might qualify for asylum if you are afraid to return to your home country. Asylum provides protection to you by providing lawful immigration status, ensuring that you no longer have to return to your home country to face harm. Once you are granted asylum, you are given the opportunity to apply to become a permanent resident and eventually a U.S. citizen in the United States.
The law recognizes several bases for asylum. Generally, any applicant for asylum must show past persecution or fear of future persecution on account of ay of these protected grounds of race, religion, nationality, membership in a particular social group, or political opinion. UACs are provided two ways to apply for asylum: (1) through the USCIS asylum office and (2) in immigration court. This is one of the many protections afforded to unaccompanied alien children, not available to most adult asylum seekers. Generally, UACs first present their case to USCIS for asylum. USCIS asylum officers are specifically trained to adjudicate UAC asylum cases. These adjudications are meant to be non-adversarial, meaning asylum officers are trained to interview applicants in a manner that is non-threatening. But the process and the questioning can be intimidating so it is always wise to have an immigration attorney with you at your asylum interview to defend your case. If USCIS decides not to grant asylum, then the case is referred to the immigration court, where the UAC can present their case a second time before an immigration judge. This can be an intimidating process as the child will also be facing an ICE trial attorney who is working against the child for the government to advocate for their deportation.
In either case, applying for asylum can be a scary thing, especially for a child. Asylum cases can be difficult to win because it requires evidence from not only the applicant, but from country conditions to support that an asylum approval is warranted. The law is very complicated about what constitutes harm and whether a particular type of harm is covered by the five protected grounds. These cases often require the preparation of numerous declarations (statements of your story) by you and witnesses, and other supporting evidence. The interviews with asylum officers and immigration judges can be intimidating.
Our team of experienced attorneys can provide you with the support, preparation and guidance needed to prepare your asylum case, whether it is before USCIS or the immigration court.