I am a Burmese citizen who worked as a sailor on a commercial container ship my entire life. When I learned my ship would be docking in Los Angeles, California, I began planning my escape. When the other sailors went ashore I pretended to be sick and stayed onboard the ship until nightfall. Then I was able to escape into the city without anyone stopping me. Can I file a claim for asylum in the United States?
You might be able to apply for asylum, but the key will be your manner of entry into the United States.
The asylum offices are not authorized to interview people who entered the United States as crewman. Crewmen are one of a small group of people who are only entitled to special, limited immigration court hearings. For a list of those groups you can look at 8 C.F.R. § 208.2(c)(1).
The asylum offices can, however, interview people who enter the United States without inspection.
Crewmembers who cannot apply for asylum with the asylum office include those who arrived at the United States aboard a vessel and:
A crewmember who enters the United States in any other way can apply for asylum with the asylum office.
Although you arrived at the United States as a crewmember, you did not, by your account, enter the United States as a crewman. Instead, you entered the U.S. without inspection, having secretly left the ship and entered the United States. You should be able to apply for asylum with the asylum office. Since the officer will probably want to see your passport and crewmember book, it is important that you detail your entry to demonstrate that you entered without inspection.