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Form I-589 Application for Asylum and for Withholding of Removals

Understanding Form I-589 and Asylum Status in the US

As with any immigration form you send to USCIS for processing, there is more to the asylum application than filling in the blanks. Asylum is not intended for those who are simply down on their luck or experiencing setbacks. This immigration status protects those who have been effectively forced out of their home nations, fearing severe retaliation because they bear certain characteristics. Therefore, exhaustive paperwork is essential as evidentiary support for Form I-589.


If you are planning on seeking the protections of US asylum laws, it is critical to begin preparations for your application right away. By retaining an Arizona asylum attorney, you gain reassurance that your documents are in order, thereby avoiding the mistakes that can lead to delays or a denial. An overview about Form I-589 is also informative.

Purpose of Form I-589


Under US immigration laws, an asylee is someone who is unable or unwilling to return to their home nation because of past persecution or a substantiated fear of future oppression. To obtain this immigration status, you must get USCIS approval on Form I-589 – Application for Asylum and for Withholding of Removal. If granted, you can remain in the US and work with proper employment authorization. There are three ways a person can obtain asylum in the US:


  1. The affirmative asylum process, in which you assert persecution in your home country;
  2. An Asylum Merits Interview, if you are placed in expedited removal proceedings and must show that you have a credible fear of oppression or torture; and,
  3. Defensive asylum, where you are involved in removal proceedings and want to defend against deportation.


After USCIS approves your asylum application, you have status as an asylee as long as you still qualify under the criteria and avoid grounds of inadmissibility. You can apply for a green card and Lawful Permanent Resident (LPR) status after one year, giving you permission to remain in the US.

Comparing Affirmative and Defensive Asylum


Though you will still need to complete Form I-589 for both, there are critical differences to understand between these two types of asylum:


  • Affirmative asylum is the process that many people recognize as “traditional” asylum seeking. You are present in the US, but are not currently in deportation proceedings. Affirmative asylum is proactive in the sense that you are claiming asylum status before USCIS or other officials take action for removal. After submitting your application for asylum, you must participate in a meeting with a USCIS asylum officer who is specially trained to deal with asylee situations. 


  • With defensive asylum processing, you are fighting against removal proceedings that have already begun before the Executive Office for Immigration Review (EOIR). Your defense to being deported is that you are an asylee, and you submit your Form I-589 to the immigration judge instead of USCIS. Asylum processing typically becomes defensive if you claim asylum upon arrival at the border or were denied after applying for affirmative asylum.

Your Phoenix asylum attorney will account for the different strategies and steps that are necessary for affirmative versus defensive asylum.

USCIS Eligibility Rules for Asylum


There is no process for asylum when a prospective asylee is in their home nation, so an important first requirement is being present in the US when you submit Form I-589. You are eligible regardless of how you entered and your current immigration status, as long as you can demonstrate persecution or a fear of being persecuted. A second critical rule is that you must file your application within one year of arriving in the US. Plus:


  • Certain individuals will be barred from applying for asylum, including those that do not comply with the one-year deadline. Another reason you may not qualify to apply is having been denied asylum through proceedings before an immigration judge or the USCIS Board of Appeals. It is possible to overcome this ground for denial if you have information showing that a change in circumstances materially affects eligibility.


  • Some applicants will be prohibited from being granted asylum due to grounds of inadmissibility for terrorism and terroristic acts. Also, USCIS will not approve Form I-589 if you participated in persecution of others or were firmly settled in another country before arriving in the US.


When completing your application for asylum, keep in mind that spouses and children under 21 years old are also eligible to be included on Form I-589.

Steps and Requirements for Form I-589 


The process will vary based upon your unique circumstances, especially considering the differences between affirmative and defensive asylum. For affirmative processing, you complete Form I-589 along with all supporting proof and documentation. You will need to go through fingerprinting and background check, and then USCIS will notify you about the details for your interview with an asylum officer. During your interview, you will answer questions about your circumstances to ensure you qualify. The officer will then make a decision on whether or not to approve your application.


With defensive asylum, the proceedings are more like a trial. You are in removal proceedings already and submitting your application for asylum to EOIR. An officer from US Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) will be making arguments and presenting evidence as to why you should not be granted asylum. The immigration judge will decide to approve or deny your Form I-589 on the basis of ICE’s case and your own evidence. Having a Arizona Form I-589 lawyer to support you during the proceeding is absolutely crucial for convincing the immigration judge of your position. 

USCIS Asylum Processing 


Aside from eligibility criteria, the key factor in evaluating applications for asylum is whether the applicant has demonstrated persecution or a fear of persecution due to five protected characteristics.


  1. Being a member of a racial group
  2. Participating in religion
  3. Nationality
  4. Membership in a social group 
  5. Political opinion


When you submit Form I-589, you will include extensive information about yourself, including passports, marriage and birth certificates, divorce records, criminal records, and much more. However, for purposes of establishing the persecution element, you might need to rely on unique sources of information. Your objective is to persuade USCIS or the immigration judge about the dangerous conditions in your home country. Your own statements are useful, but you may benefit when you gain additional support from:


  • News articles and media coverage about how individuals are treated based upon the above protected characteristics, including any details about specific events;
  • Affidavits from eyewitnesses and experts;
  • Medical records related to your injuries or psychological harm from persecution; and,
  • Photographs.

Legal Impact of Asylee Status


The most significant, positive effect of being granted asylum is that you will no longer have to balance the anxiety of being deported with the fear of returning to the dangerous conditions in your home nation. After a year, you can apply for a green card and eventually move on to paths to US citizenship. Plus, asylees may have access to medical care.


However, status as an asylee can be terminated under certain circumstances. You could lose asylum if you engage in certain acts, particularly those dealing with grounds of inadmissibility or fraud in the application process. If the US has a treaty with a third country that can provide safe refuge, you may be removed to this nation in lieu of being granted asylum. In such a case, you may be able to avoid removal if you have already applied for and obtained your green card for LPR status.

Additional Points to Note About Form I-589


Some other facts about applying for asylum in the US may be useful depending on your circumstances.


  • As an asylee, you are eligible to work in the US. You must first obtain an Employment Authorization Document (EAD) by filing Form I-756 – Application for Employment Authorization.
  • You can travel outside the US when you have asylee status, but you will need to file paperwork with USCIS. Though refugee status is different from asylum, you need a Refugee Travel Document. Similar to a passport, it enables you to return to the US.
  • When your spouse, children, or parents are part of your asylum application, you will need to provide  extensive information with respect to each of them.
  • Withholding of removal may be an option for you if you do not qualify for asylum because of a deportation history, not meeting the one-year deadline, or other designated reasons. You are still somewhat protected from deportation, but the status does not grant many other benefits. You cannot apply for a green card, so you are also prohibited from petitioning to bring family members to the US.

An Arizona Form I-589 Lawyer Will Guide You with Asylum Applications


An overview on seeking asylum in the US is useful, but there are many additional details that are critical when filing Form I-589. For more information, please contact Diamondback Legal to speak with a member of our team. You can set up a consultation with a Phoenix immigration attorney by calling (602) 755-3199 or visiting us online. Once we review your circumstances, we can discuss next steps. 


Related Content: Arizona Immigration Assistance with Asylum & Withholding of Removal

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