Introduction to Asylum

Table of Contents

Definition of Asylum Seeker – 1 minute read

An asylum seeker is any person who has fled from their home country for fear of their lives being jeopardized due to race, religion, nationality, gender, membership in a social group, or political opinion and has asked the United States to grant them asylum, or sanctuary.   

Reasons for seeking asylum vary drastically, and each story is filled with the immense courage and resilience of the person seeking safety. Read real stories from DASH residents here

Some of the primary places DFW receives its asylum seeker population include Zimbabwe, Ethiopia, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Egypt, China, Pakistan, Central America, Burundi, and Angola. 

Differences Between Refugees and Asylum Seekers – 5 minute read

Refugees and asylum seekers both meet the American Immigration Council’s definition of a refugee: 

A person who is unable or unwilling to return to his or her country of nationality because of persecution… on account of race, religion, nationality, membership in a particular social group, or political opinion.

Refugees

Typically, refugees flee in sizable groups to neighboring countries where the United Nations (UN) has set up a refugee camp. Here, refugees wait several years until they are granted permanent refugee status. At this point, the UN pays for their travel to resettle in the United States or another safe country. Thankfully, in the United States they are immediately eligible for a work permit and are met at the airport by a caseworker. After their long journey, the US immediately places them in a furnished apartment with 6-8 months of resettlement benefits including food stamps, financial assistance, case management, medicaid, and more. By no means are we downplaying the struggle of the refugee. We acknowledge the incredible hardships presented by refugee resettlement camps and by the trauma of the persecution that caused them to flee from their homes. Thankfully, however, once refugees arrive in the US they are provided with support and assistance to thrive in America–this system has room to improve, but it’s existence is a blessing.

Asylum Seekers

The reception of refugees into the United States stands in stark contrast to that of asylum seekers. Asylum seekers typically face persecution individually or as a single family unit. Similarly to refugees, asylum seekers have also experienced unimaginable persecution: 75% of the asylum seekers in DASH have been beaten, raped, or tortured in their country*. Asylum seekers are in such immediate danger that they have to flee for their lives immediately, often alone and in secret, and find a way to get out of the country. 

Asylum Seekers arrive at the airport alone and if they don’t have a contact in the US, which many do not, are typically unsure of what to do next. They are not greeted with a furnished apartment, the legal ability to work, or social services provided by the federal government–in fact, most states do not provide social services to asylum seekers. Alone, without the help of a translator or case worker, and with very limited finances, asylum seekers are faced with the long and arduous legal process of filing for asylum. Asylum seekers in DFW often wait for 2 years or more before they receive their work permit and social security card. Until their asylum case is granted, which can sometimes take several more years, they remain ineligible for any federal social services.

How are these people supposed to survive during this wait? This is why many of these educated, hard-working, courageous victims of injustice, who come here for safety, end up on our streets. DASH exists to stand in this gap. 

See Chart Here

Real Stories & Testimonies – 5 minute read

The following testimonies were written by DASH graduates; we are blessed to call each of them our friends. We have prayed, cried, and rejoiced with them as we’ve shared our lives together over the past several years. 

Our heart in sharing these stories is not to exploit – all stories have been shared with full consent of the writers. Instead, we hope to communicate the humanity intertwined with this issue and shine light on the atrocities occurring around the world. These are some of the life-threatening reasons people are seeking asylum. 

For each of these four examples, there are another 400,000 asylum seekers in our country, many of whom are in similar situations with nowhere to turn. 

Will you hear their plea for a generation to rise up on their behalf? Read stories here. 

DFW Before DASH – 3 minute read

So what happens to people seeking asylum who arrive in the US alone, cannot legally work, and are not part of a housing program like DASH? The following are real stories from asylum seekers who arrived in DFW before receiving DASH support. 

“I found a family that was from my country, and asked if I could live with them. They let me sleep on their couch, but said that I would have to be the house servant. Clean the house, cook the meals, do the laundry, and do anything that they wanted. If I ever needed to do something else, or wanted to leave the house for any reason, they would threaten to kick me out. Every day I felt afraid.  If I made a mistake today, maybe tomorrow I would lose my place to stay.” 

“I came with a student visa and registered for school with the emergency money my uncle gave to me. At the same time, I started my asylum case with a pro-bono lawyer. My money ran out after only one semester in school. My lawyer said he could not help me with housing, food or school, because that was not his job. I was afraid and did not know where to go. I found a ride with a stranger to another state where I heard there was more help, but still found no place to stay. I asked people I met for food and money. I never thought America would be this cruel.”

“I was so desperate for a place to live that I went to an apartment complex and I knocked on the doors. I asked everyone if there was a person who could help me and give me a place to stay. The only man who offered me a place to stay wanted me to be a prostitute. But I could not do that, so I could not stay.”

“When I got to the U.S., I stayed with a family from my country for almost a year. It was ok in the beginning, but my case was taking so long. They began to ask me every day when my asylum case would be over, when I would get my work permit, and when I would finally leave their house. Their pressure to find a new place to stay was so heavy. Finally, they said that they could not support me any longer. They said I was on my own. The local homeless shelter would not take me because I did not have any documents, only a letter from my lawyer. I went four days without food, sleeping outside in a park.”

“I would prefer to go home to where I came from or to die than to stay at the house where I went, when I first came to America. It was like a prison. I was not allowed to leave the house, talk to people outside, or have friends come to visit. I could not touch or use many things in the house. The woman I stayed with would tell me not to shower much because she didn’t want her soap to run out.  Every time she had guests, she would tell me to leave the house, and she knew I had nowhere else to go. I just took the bus going around the city until I was allowed to come back. Sometimes the visitors would stay for three weeks.”

“I was lucky to escape here with my family, but this made it more difficult, because no one would take us in, since we are five. Every day I would ask God “How am I going to feed my children?” I went to the food bank but they turned me away, because I had no social security card. We nearly starved to death, not in Africa, but here in America. My only option was to work illegally, cleaning houses. This would cause me to lose my asylum case if the government found out, but what choice do I have?”    

 “I could not find anyone to live with permanently, but people don’t mind a few days, so I slept on a different couch, every few days. I was always in fear that the next night I would not have a place to stay.”

Changing the Narrative – 14 minute read

The media often presents a sharply polarized and incomplete understanding of who immigrants are in general and of who asylum seekers are in particular. It is easy to become frustrated or overwhelmed looking for answers in the midst of so many divergent viewpoints. 

Whether you lean left, right, or somewhere in the middle, there is a place for you with DASH, and we hope this page can bring some clarity to a subject that can often feel opaque: who are asylum seekers? 

In our pursuit of unity and clarity, please read over the facts we address in this section of the website. 

Ask Us Anything – 3 minute read

We know the asylum process can be confusing to understand–it’s complicated. That’s why we answered your most frequently asked questions and made space for you to ask us anything you’d like below, as well. 

Are asylum seekers here legally?

Most asylum seekers arrive in the US with valid visas. Once asylum seekers complete and submit their asylum applications to the US government, they have made their presence known to the government and can continue to stay in the US past their visa expiration date. However, asylum seekers are still unable to work and ineligible for government services until they receive their work permit which can take ~2 years. 

If asylum seekers arrive in the U.S. without a visa and declare they are afraid to return home, they are detained by immigration officials and given a ‘credible fear’ interview. Some remain in detention, while others are paroled or bonded out often because they can show they will live with family or community sponsors, like DASH Network. 

Where do asylum seekers come from?

The primary nationalities we see represented among DFW asylum seekers include Zimbabwe, Ethiopia, DR Congo, Egypt, Cameroon, Pakistan, Central America, Burundi, and elsewhere from around the world. As conflicts from around the world change, we see changes in the representation of these nationalities. 

National statistics show that high numbers also come from China, Haiti, and Venezuela. 

How do asylum seekers escape their country?

In the large majority of cases, asylum seekers are forced to flee their homes suddenly and in-secret. Some asylum seekers go into hiding while they try to make a plan for their next move, often working to obtain a visa to leave the country. Some asylum seekers we have spoken to were able to use false identification, bribery or smugglers to leave the country without the government finding out. All of these are dangerous options. 

As the Kenyan poet Warsan Shire puts it in his poem “Home”:  

“you have to understand,

no one puts their children in a boat

unless the water is safer than the land.

who would choose to spend days 

and nights in the stomach of a truck

unless the miles travelled

meant something more than journey.” 

Most asylum seekers are forced to leave without saying goodbye to beloved friends and family because of the immediate danger they are in. 

Why can’t asylum seekers move to another part of their county?

As Freedom House explains, “People who have the option of relocating within their own country are not eligible for asylum. (Asylum seekers) are often activists whose governments want to stop them from advocating for democratic change and human rights. There is nowhere (they) can safely go in their countries because of this.” 

How do asylum seekers get to the U.S.?

Asylum seekers arrive in the US by air, boat, or on foot. Most are able to obtain US visas (such as student or visitor visas) and fly to the US. Some asylum seekers have family or friends in the US they can contact for help, but many have no idea what to do next or where to go.

Some asylum seekers cannot secure a visa before they are forced to flee their country. In these instances, they often travel to South American countries and make the treacherous journey to reach the southern US border to then ask for asylum. We currently have residents that have entered the US both ways.

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