Legal Review: Asylum Seekers Among Immigrant Families Separated by ICE

By immigration lawyer Natalia Segermeister, who is barred and practices in the state of New York, with The Visa Firm.

Immigrations and Customs Enforcement (ICE), the agency tasked with enforcing the immigration laws of the United States and headquartered in Washington, D.C., has begun separating families who arrived in the United States without prior approval and those that have overstayed their visas or failed to maintain their status.

A lawsuit filed by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) alleges that breaking up families without a hearing — specifically, separating parents from their minor children — is a violation of the due process rights of the parents.

Some families arrive in the United States as asylum seekers — individuals leaving war-torn or otherwise dangerous home countries in search of safety.

To qualify for admittance into the United States under a request for asylum, the individual must prove that they have been persecuted in the past in their home country or has a well-founded fear that they will be persecuted in the future because of race, religion, nationality, membership in a particular social group, or political opinion.

“The intent behind the asylum regulations is obvious: to provide individuals that fear for their lives the opportunity to come to the United States for safety,” said Natalia Segermeister, an immigration law attorney with The Visa Firm in Washington, D.C.  “However, it is a very high bar to clear. The burden of proof is on the individual requesting asylum, and most of these refugees have very little to their names at all, let alone evidence of past persecution or reasons to expect persecution in the future.” As a result, many claims for asylum are denied for this reason.

The ACLU’s plaintiff is a mother from the Democratic Republic of Congo. She and her seven-year-old daughter came to the United States to escape the violence that has engulfed that African nation for years. Upon arrival in the U.S., they promptly surrendered to immigration agents and requested asylum.

Not long after their arrival, ICE sent the mother to a detention center in San Diego, CA. They sent her seven-year-old daughter to a youth shelter in Chicago.

“This family, so concerned about losing one another to violence in their home country, left in search of safety together,” said Segermeister. “They arrived in the United States, hopeful for protection. Instead, the mother and daughter were ripped apart. Now, the mother must decide whether to risk being apart from her daughter for waiting for a decision that may not be favorable, or whether to be reunited with her daughter immediately and risk returning the DRC. They have to make sure that their case is processed properly and that the evidence needed for the claim is present.”

Claims for asylum must be properly and supported with documentation to be successful. Having legal guidance experienced in the process can be the difference between approval and denial.

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