What if Immigration catches me before I submit my asylum application?

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Question:

I'm from Eritrea, and my tourist visa ran out two months ago. I have a free lawyer who is helping me apply for political asylum, but it seems to be taking a long time. She says she is "collecting documents." What if I get arrested by Immigration before she turns the application form in?

Answer:

It's good that you're paying close attention to your case, but don't panic quite yet. If you get arrested -- which is unlikely to happen -- you will still have the right to a hearing before a judge in Immigration Court, and you'll be able to present your full request for asylum there. In fact, many people who apply for asylum and are not approved by the USCIS officer who first hears the case must then go to Immigration Court to have the case heard again. (Of course, you don't want to do anything risky that brings you to the attention of the immigration authorities, like hanging around a USCIS office or getting arrested by the police.)

What if your case goes to the Immigration Court, but is denied? You have the right to appeal and to stay in the United States during that appeal. (Unfortunately, you won't have the right to work during that time, except in unusual circumstances where USCIS is at fault for delays.)

It sounds like you're also worried about whether your attorney is doing a good job. A good attorney will take the time to gather documents such as newspaper articles, reports by human rights organizations, and affidavits by experts in order to back up your story about what happened to you. Hopefully your attorney is doing just that. She is probably also extremely busy.

However, you do need to keep an eye on the one-year deadline on applying for asylum after your entry to the United States. Talk to your lawyer to make sure she is keeping track of this.

If you have seen other signs that your lawyer is not giving your case the attention it deserves, or if a month or more passes without any apparent progress, you might want to ask around (with nonprofit organizations or lawyers who are representing friends of yours) to find out whether your lawyer is highly regarded. If she's not, look for a new lawyer. You can find an immigration attorney by searching Nolo's Lawyer Directory, where you can view in-depth attorney profiles of attorneys in your local area.

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