Humanitarian Relief

Asylum/Refugee status

If you fear that you will be abused in your home country because of your race, nationality, religion, political opinion, or membership in a particular social group you may be eligible to apply for Asylum or to become a Refugee. You must prove that your government is the abuser or that the government allows you to be abused without doing anything to help you.

If you are already have asylum or refugee status when you arrive in the United States, you are eligible to apply for your permanent residence (green card) after being in the United States for one year. It does not matter if you are currently in lawful status or not, but, if you come to the United States in another status, like a visitor or a student, or you come unlawfully, you must apply for asylum within one year of arriving. If you have a court date with the Immigration Judge, you have to file your asylum application in court. The Immigration Judge will make a decision on your asylum application. If you do not yet have a court date, you must file your asylum application with the Department of Homeland Security, and a government officer will interview you and make a decision on your case.

Despite the relative small number of major world religions like Christianity, Hinduism, Buddhism, Judaism, and Islam, there are hundreds, if not thousands, of other religions in the world. Throughout history, governments have historically supported some religions and persecuted others.

Modern examples of governments persecuting people because of their religion include Uzbekistan’s ongoing persecution of Christians. Uzbek authorities routinely harass Christians at their homes and places of worship. Azerbaijan is another example. Azeri government actors routinely discriminate against Muslims even though the country is historically Muslim. These abuses include imprisonment and criminal charges.

Immigrants who have been persecuted because of their religion can apply for asylum, and asylum officers are not permitted to question the immigrant on their particular knowledge of their religion. If an immigrant is credible about the specific facts of the abuse that took place against them, asylum will be granted.

Your nationality is loosely defined as your ethnic background; where your ancestors are from. Even though nationality is not as obvious as some other qualities, discriminatory governments will go to great lengths to discover where you and your ancestors are from and use it to abuse you.

Examples of discrimination based on nationality in today’s world include Russia’s discrimination and non-prosecution of hate crimes towards those with Korean ancestry, whether they were born in Russia or are Russian citizens. It does not matter whether they are from Russia, or if they look to be from a different race, they are discriminated against because of where their ancestors are from. For this reason, discrimination based on nationality is one of the most troublesome forms of abuse that exists in the world, and asylum officers and Immigration Judges are quick to identify it

In many parts of the world, you political opinion is considered to be a protected human right, and the only obligation to express it is privately in a voting booth. Sadly, in other parts of the world, people are routinely killed and abused by their government because of their political opinion. Your political opinion is not necessarily limited to political parties, but political issues that are relevant in your country.

For example, in Guatemala, where at one point in time 60% of all murders could be linked to domestic violence, speaking out against domestic violence makes you a target for systematic abuse. In a famous 2008 Board of Immigration Appeals decision, a victim of domestic abuse who suffered further abuse after advocating for legal reforms relevant to domestic violence won asylum in the United States. This was not because of her opinion that domestic violence was wrong, but her advocacy for political changes.

Other issues that have resulted in systematic government persecution and have served as the basis for asylum include union activity, whistle blowing, journalistic freedom and integrity, and feminism. Having the wrong view in certain countries regarding these issues can get you hurt or killed, and the United States offers you a safe haven to express your views freely.

This is the umbrella asylum category. The first step in this type of asylum application is to define what social group you are a part of. This social group can be broad, like “single fathers” or “ex-military member” or it can be extremely narrowly defined, like “Honduran teenagers who rejected or resisted membership in the gang based on their own personal, moral, and religious opposition to the gang’s values and activities.” You must prove that, as the member of a particular social group, you were highly visible and readily identifiable as a member of that group. One of the largest social groups that applies to the most countries is for gay, lesbian, and transgender men and women. Having one of these alternative lifestyles can cause discrimination and abuse at the hands of backwards-thinking governments all over the world. As a strongly progressive and inclusive country, the United States offers asylum to people experiencing these abuses based on their sexual orientation as a social group.

Unfortunately, people are discriminated all over the world for their race. Race is actually a non-scientific concept that is actually very difficult to define. It is basically the division of people in categories and subcategories based on lines of ancestry, geographic origin, and especially physical characteristics like facial features, type and texture of hair, and of course skin color. Sometimes, in extreme cases, the abuse comes at the hands of the government and military officials. Cases like these include South Africa’s black population during the apartheid era, or Germany’s Jewish population during and just before World War II. Cases like these cases readily identifiable.


Less obvious cases include those where a certain race of people does not suffer abuse directly from the country’s government, but by other groups with the government’s support or complicity. When the government does not do anything to fight race-based abuse, you are suffering at the fault of that government. Recent examples of these cases include indigenous American Indian tribes in Central and South America whose members live along or close to drug trafficking routes. As drug violence rages in these areas, these defenseless people are caught in the crossfire. They are easily identifiable by cartels operating with impunity from corrupt governments and they are massacred for simply claiming ancestral rights to their land.

For an example of modern persecution based on race, see the story of Colombia’s Paez Indians.

U visa – Crime victims

If you are the victim of a violent crime, like robbery, aggravated assault, sexual assault, domestic violence, carjacking, or kidnapping, you can apply for a U visa. After you have your U visa and are in the United States for three years, you can apply for adjustment.  It does not matter if you came to the United States legally or not. Your spouse and children can apply for their permanent residence too if they were your derivatives when you applied for the U visa. Make sure you consult with an attorney to make sure you provide the correct evidence and fill out your paperwork correctly.

Parole in Place

Even if you have a spouse, parent, or child who is a United States citizen or permanent resident, if you entered the United States unlawfully (by walking across the border without inspection) you normally cannot apply for adjustment. However, if you have a spouse, parent, or child who is in the United States armed forces (Army, Navy, Marines, Air Force, or Coast Guard, or National Guard), or who is a veteran of the armed forces, you can apply for Parole in Place, which will fix your unlawful entry without you having to physically leave the United States or even go to the border. You can then apply for adjustment.

Special Immigrant Juvenile

If you are in the United States without any parents or legal guardians and you are under 18 years old, you can apply for adjustment. Many times, you must establish that your parents neglected, abandoned, or abused you, and that is why you are in the United States. In some cases, just having one parent, not both, neglect, abandon, or abuse you is enough to apply for adjustment under this category. It does not matter if you came to the United States legally with a visa or unlawfully. However, state law plays a large part in whether this is true for you, and it is important you consult with an attorney to find out if you might apply for adjustment under this category.

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