Residents of Iraq and Syria have a somewhat rare opportunity in their wide ability to receive asylum in the United States. The process by which this may occur could be onerous for some, but it frequently is resulting in total U.S. immigration success. Those granted asylum may apply for permanent residence if the situation that led to their approval does not resolve itself within one year. For many who are asylum eligible, the only true difficulty is finding a way to reach the United States. Once there, the granting or denial of asylum will be based on how potentially dangerous it would be for the foreign national if he or she is sent back (among some other factors).
Since 2011, several locations across North and East Africa and the Middle East have become destabilized. This has paved the way for radical groups with oppressive ideologies to organize and in several cases seize whole territories. Perhaps chief among those is the Islamic State (IS). Not surprising considering its former name; the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, the group is the dominant force in many sections of those countries. In these sections, national authorities have little to no control, and those with the great misfortune of living in them are trapped with little to no reasonable means of escape.
Foreign Nationals are eligible for U.S. asylum in most cases only if they prove that they have a “reasonable fear” of serious persecution primarily on the grounds of “race, religion, national origin, political opinion, or membership in a social group.” The persecution must be shown to either be coming from one’s government or from forces that it is unwilling or unable to stop. It is not in serious dispute that IS counts as one of these groups. Thus, anyone who enters the United States with a reasonable fear of falling into IS’s hands if sent home is eligible. A “reasonable fear” for the purposes of asylum is an apparent likelihood of at least one to eight that the alien will be persecuted on one of the listed grounds.
Some Iraqis and Syrians are in situations dire enough for their likelihood of asylum success to be very high. Members of religious minority communities, including the Yezidis, the Druze, and even Christians should be able to demonstrate reasonable fear of persecution at the hands of radical Islamists. Some Iraqi Sunni communities have reasonable fear of sectarian persecution. Due to the Kurdish resistance and general demand for an independent Kurdish state, Kurds may be able to demonstrate reasonable fear of ethnic violence from several parties. Those who have identified with the Syrian Opposition may have a reasonable fear of retribution from the government in addition to the fear of being captured by IS or others. And even those who sympathize with the Syrian Regime or those who have stood up to government corruption in Iraq may be able to make similar (retribution based) reasonable fear arguments, albeit on somewhat weaker grounds.
The numbers suggest amply that at least some reasonable fear arguments are working. Over the past two years, less than 5% of asylum cases with people of those nationalities have ended in denial, and over 80% have ended in approval. (The others fall into several categories, but most are likely still in the U.S. pending further action.) It should be kept in mind that each asylum case is somewhat different. One truth that holds across all cases, however, is that the more contact one can have with an experienced immigration attorney before arriving, the better.
Another thing to consider is that Syria and ten other countries are under Temporary Protected Status (TPS). Any Syrian that has held U.S. residence since January 5th and has been continuously present since April 1st is eligible to apply for TPS. Those who receive it may stay at least until September 30th 2016 and receive work authorization. Those who receive TPS are often also those who can put together a strong case for asylum.
For anyone who stands a good chance of receiving asylum–but is not already in the country–the situation is likely dire. The first course of action would be to seek a tourist visa from a U.S. consulate, though this may not work. Simply arriving at a point of entry and asking to seek asylum should be considered a last resort. But for some it is the only way, and it has led to success in the past. However, anyone reading this article should be able to contact us so that we can help find a better strategy.