Immigration and Asylum Lawyer in Chicago

Do you have questions about asylum? Are you interested in seeking asylum in the United States? If so, please call at (312) 445-9127 in Chicago. Attorney Julie O'Grady is available to talk to you in a free consultation about your immigration concerns.

What Is Asylum?

Asylum is a legal status that is granted to an immigrant who is already present in the U.S., and who cannot go back to their home country (or is unwilling to do so) due to past persecution or a fear of future persecution if they go back. The persecution must be due to their race, religion, political opinion, nationality or inclusion in a particular social group. Once asylum is granted that person is referred to as an "asylee". If you are granted asylum, then you will be able to live and work in the U.S. After one year, you will be eligible to apply for a green card/permanent resident status. After another four years, you will be eligible to apply for U.S. citizenship.

How Is an Asylee Different From a Refugee?

People often confuse an asylee with a refugee. The two terms are very similar. The only difference is that a person seeking to become an asylee files their application for asylum after they have entered the U.S., whereas a person seeking to become a refugee files their application while they are still outside of the U.S. But both types of applicants are unable or unwilling to return to their home country because of past persecution or fear of future persecution in their home country.

After Entering the U.S., How Much Time Do I Have to Apply for Asylum?

You must apply for asylum either at the port of entry when entering the U.S. — or — within one year from the date of your last entry into the U.S. The one-year deadline is a very strict requirement. If you file your asylum application more than one year after your entry into the U.S., then you must show that extraordinary circumstances existed, accounting for the delay in filing that prevented you from applying on time, such as a serious illness or the conditions in your home country that have changed. But exceptions to the one-year rule are not often granted, so it's always best to file your asylum application within one year of entering the U.S.

Otherwise, if you fail to apply for asylum within one year of entering the U.S., and you still fear persecution if you return to your homeland, you may still be eligible for another form of relief under the United Nations Convention Against Torture (called "withholding of removal"), but that form of relief has a higher burden of proof than asylum, and, if granted, it will not lead to permanent residency, a green card or citizenship, like a grant of asylum. So, immigrants generally prefer a grant of asylum over a grant of withholding of removal.

In order to win your asylum case, you must show:

  • That you cannot return to your home country because you had been persecuted there in the past, or because you fear that you will suffer persecution there in the future.
  • That this persecution was (or will be) due to your race, religion, nationality, political opinion or membership in a particular social group.
  • That this persecution was caused by the police, the army or the government in your home country; or the persecution was caused by a nongovernmental group in your home country, of which the government, the army and the police are unwilling or unable to stop.
  • That you will not be safe from future persecution anywhere in your home country, even if you move to another city or region within your home country.

In your asylum application, you must provide detailed information about yourself, and give specific explanations of:

  • How and why you personally were harmed in the past
  • Why you are afraid to return
  • What specific harm you believe will happen to you if you do return to your home country

You cannot simply write general statements, like "because my country is at war." You must provide specific instances of the harm that you suffered in the past, and how and why you fear harm if you return to your home country.

Asylum cases can be difficult to prove. While you are not required to retain an immigration attorney to prepare your asylum application, it is strongly recommended. And if your asylum case is referred to immigration court, then you will definitely need an immigration attorney to represent you before an immigration court judge. U.S. immigration law is very complex. To win a grant of asylum, it's best to have an immigration attorney who has experience in preparing asylum applications, and in handling asylum cases before the asylum office and the immigration court.

When searching for an attorney, make sure that you find an immigration attorney who knows immigration law and is experienced with the asylum process. Look for an immigration attorney who is a member of the American Immigration Lawyers Association ( www.aila.org). Do not hire a nonattorney (or "forms preparer"), who is essentially practicing law without a license. Beware of a person who calls himself a notary, or "notario," as that person is not a licensed attorney. If a notary or any other nonattorney (even a friend) gives you legal advice, always double-check that advice with a licensed and experienced immigration attorney.

The bottom line is that you only get one shot at applying for asylum. Do not waste that opportunity by submitting a poorly worded asylum application, by using a nonattorney or by being unprepared to win your case. It is always better to have an experienced immigration attorney on your side.