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What's the difference between seeking refuge and seeking asylum?

Asylum seekers are another aspect of the ever-evolving immigration landscape in the United States. While many people are focused on undocumented immigrants and refugees, there are other foreign nationals in the U.S. that are desperately hoping to be granted asylum. Without it, they may be returned to countries where they may die because of persecution.

That's the critical difference between a refugee from a collapsing economy or war-torn area and an asylum seeker. Someone seeking asylum has to have a well-founded, justifiable belief that he or she would be personally targeted for persecution and possibly killed for some reason if he or she is deported to the country they can no longer call "home."

Asylum for fear of persecution can be granted on one or more of five grounds:

-- Race

-- Religion

-- Nationality

-- Political Opinion

-- Membership in a particular social group (which is interpreted to include individuals who are gay, lesbian or transgender coming from countries where that is considered a criminal offense)

For example, while there aren't many Saudi nationals who have sought asylum in the U.S., one Saudi woman was recently successful in seeking asylum after she fled her home and country and sneaked back into the United States. She had been previously sent to the U.S. for an education, which had allowed her to establish a network of friends who could help her—but it also caused her to begin to challenge the Saudi government's guardianship system over women, question her faith in Islam and begin challenging the restrictive familial control that women in that nation face.

Under Saudi law, all women, regardless of age, are under the legal guardianship of a male relative. That deprives them of the right to work, leave the home, travel or do much of anything without their male guardian's permission. Even speaking out against the system can subject a woman to retribution from the government and her family.

Worse, in the case of the woman mentioned, she decided to abandon Islam, which meant that she was an apostate—a crime punishable by death.

If your political affiliations, activism, membership in a minority race or religion, sexual orientation or some other issue makes it unsafe for you to return to your country, an immigration attorney may be able to help. You may find it possible to avoid deportation if you can make a valid case.

Source: Immigration Equality, "Applying for Asylum," accessed Feb. 08, 2017

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