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Having counsel makes huge difference for asylum seekers

Florida families may be affected by an ongoing controversy related to a key element in the process for seeking asylum in the United States. Undocumented immigrants who are physically present in the United States may seek asylum, which is a type of legal permission to stay, if they can show a credible fear of persecution in their home country.

Under existing United States law, immigrants suffering persecution in their home countries because of race, religion, political opinion, nationality or social group may seek asylum by filling out proper paperwork and being questioned by immigration authorities. The Trump administration has sought to change the asylum process to make the United States less hospitable to those seeking to gain residency in this way. Immigration officials for those affirmatively applying for asylum can make some approvals, but cases are often referred to immigration court for a judge to decide. Undocumented immigrants detained by authorities may also seek asylum after detention, but there is no option for administrative approval, and they must proceed to immigration court for a hearing on their status.

Unlike criminal courts, there is no guaranteed legal right to an attorney for immigrants in the asylum process, so the government does not appoint counsel for detainees. This is important because asylum seekers are five times more likely to be approved if they are represented by a lawyer before immigration authorities. Asylum seekers are not allowed to work while their case is pending and may face financial problems that complicate the ability to retain counsel.

When someone is facing barriers to legal residency, U.S. immigration law can be confusing. Consulting with an experienced immigration attorney may provide an overview of the process and available options for navigating the legal process and assimilating into United States.

Source: United States Customs and Immigration Services. 'The Affirmative Asylum Process."

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