Press Release: Asylum History

The asylum system was established in 1968 when the United States signed the protocol to the 1951 United Nations Convention Related to the Status of Refugees, and then passed the 1980 Refugee Convention.

These measures followed public outcry about the treatment by the United States and other countries of boatloads of refugees who sought protection from Nazi Germany but were turned away. In the case of the SS St. Louis, more than 900 people were returned to Europe, where 254 died in the Holocaust.

The law says a person may apply for asylum at a port of entry or from within the United States. People generally may apply for asylum up to one year after their arrival in the United States. An application for asylum may also be used as a defense from deportation. The law explicitly permits people who are in the United States to seek asylum, whether they entered with documentation or not.

In order to seek asylum at a port of entry, asylum seekers declare that they fear being retured to their home country and wish to seek asylum. They are to be promptly interviewed by an asylum officer who makes an initial determination whether their fear is credible. If so, their case will go before a judge for a final decision. If not, they may appeal in immigration court or be placed in removal proceedings.

These laws and procedures for asylum were established by Congress in accordance with our obligations under the international accords we signed with our allies to protect refugees worldwide. Any of the migrants traveling through Mexico who reach our border should be processed through the asylum system, just as all migrants arriving at our border have been for many years. Asylum is the law of the land, and the administration must follow that law as enacted by Congress.

Catholic social teaching holds that people have a right to migrate to sustain their lives and the lives of their families. It also says governments have a right to regulate their borders, and must do so with justice and mercy. See here for further explanation and links to resources.

For more information about asylum law and policy, check out the following resources from the CLINIC’S partners and other experts:

Reporters: To interview one of CLINIC’s asylum law experts, contact Patricia Zapor, communications director, at 301-565-4830. This press release is being forwarded from the Catholic Legal Immigration Network, Inc. CLINIC advocates for humane and just immigration policy. Its network of nonprofit immigration programs—330 organizations in 47 states and the District of Columbia—is the largest in the nation.