The Unknown: A Breakdown of the Process of Becoming an Asylee


Cate Charron

The Detroit U.S. Detention and Deportation Center

Cate Charron, Staff Writer

It seems as though the national news is broadcasting an issue that the typical American is never exposed to or sees. Watching the ABC World News can make someone feel distant and unfamiliar to a matter, as relating to tragic circumstances is exceedingly difficult. The opioid epidemic, Brexit, or the Mueller investigation doesn’t exactly affect the everyday American. It’s just another news story.

Immigration truly affects every area in the United States from California to Arkansas, and from Texas to New Jersey. Michigan is one of the states with the most activity regarding immigration and deportation, as we still have a decent amount of farmland and low wage employment opportunities.

The Detroit US Detention and Deportation Center

Every year, thousands of people flock to the United States-Mexico border seeking the safety of entering the United States of America under asylum. They trek across Central America and Mexico to escape the corruption and violence that forced them out of their own countries to start a new life.

Homicide rates increase in Central and Latin America as due the rates of refugees in the region. El Salvador, Honduras, and Guatemala each rank as some of the most dangerous countries in the world in respect to their towering murder rates.

In 2015, 110,000 refugees were seeking asylum worldwide from the three countries. Most of which were looking to head towards the United States.

“To qualify for asylum, you must establish that you are a refugee who is unable or unwilling to return to his or her country of nationality, or last habitual residence if you have no nationality, because of persecution or a well-founded fear of persecution on account of race, religion, nationality, membership in a particular social group, or political opinion.” (Instructions for I-589)

The US openly states it is able to provide refuge to those who arrive at the border via affirmative asylum if they are able to provide reason as to why they are applying in their initial interview. The process becomes more complicated as many arrive with no documentation, which under US law allows the immigration officers to temporarily detain such persons, thus separating families as their case is processed. Children are then sent to centers and placed in foster homes, which causes them to be sent to a different state on availability.

The process to enter is strenuous as the United States struggles to vet the large masses of people trying to enter. A multitude of issues can convolute within those trying to enter as many forge documents, have no documents, lie, and try to sneak in to the United States. Thus, making it more difficult for families truly seeking asylum.

The “zero tolerance” policy was enacted by Immigration Services to ‘crack down’ on immigration and limit the intake of population for the United States. The policy set a tone for legal and illegal immigrants alike. A new phase has begun in America where immigrants are looked upon with repugnance and dismissed as criminals by the public. A flare in government policy that lasted two weeks in May caused the agonizing pain of dismembered families to persist for months as a result. The tearing apart of families to be shipped across to different corners of the United States is inhumane, but this is only just a piece of immigration.


Subsequently, ICE has a heavy load of lawsuits on their hands. One case of precedence includes L. v. Immigration & Customs Enforcement, in which, Ms. L., plaintiff, was seeking asylum from her home country of the Democratic Republic of the Congo on account of receiving religious persecution as being a practicing Catholic. She and her six-year-old daughter were “forcibly separated” upon arrival and Ms. L did not then see her again for six months.

Despite her adherence to federal immigration policy, Ms. L was still sent to a detention center and the protocol in place is left ignored. The issue is that Ms. L was not suitably sent to her asylum officer for validation of her claim, but instead she was wrongfully prosecuted for a crime she did not intend to commit.

The grievous mistakes of federal government has led to the current matters of reuniting parents with their children. An issue, created unnecessarily, that has lasting emotional and psychological effects on those involved.

It becomes additionally difficult to reunite the families as parents have been deported without regaining custody of their children. However, the government is diligently working to reunite those families by contacting their current country and making arrangements to unify such children with their parents.

The separation of families is nearly just a piece of the larger, multi-facted process. Asylum-seekers with real intent to live legally in the US face a multitude of additional issues that seem to build upon each other.

The separation of families is only the continuation of the suffering those must go through to achieve asylum. The system is proven to be negligent as immigrants must face extreme poverty due to the restriction placed upon them with little assistance. In addition, a person’s status is often based off the opinion of one government official, either an ICE officer or an immigration judge, which too also has a wide variety of results throughout the country.

The first barrier is entering the United States. A person must first prove to have substantial evidence of persecution in their previous country to an ICE asylum officer. Initially, this meeting currently has been postponed most of the time due to the immediate detention of some refugees. This was the cause of the separations of family members by the ruling a few months ago.

Once the person can provide an acceptable reason to the immigration officer, they can be released to the public or they will be sent back to their country of origin. A multitude of new obstacles may arise for those in pursuit of legal asylee status in America.

When first released into society, surviving can prove difficult. It is required by law that asylum-seekers must wait 150 days (approximately 5 months) from the day they submit their complete asylum application to apply for permission to work in the US. Thus, leaving 150 days for a family to struggle to feed their children and to find shelter.

Furthermore, asylum-seekers are not eligible for any type of government assistance. When released into the US, often times, they have virtually nothing and are left to their own devices to find transportation, housing, legal assistance, and, unfortunately in some instances, finding someone to help gather their separated children.

Local groups, such as the Michigan Support Circle group is an organization who specializes in assisting the many families awaiting trial, who are unable to work, and cannot afford to buy basic necessities. Led by founder Rosalie Lochner, the MSG uses the internet to gather people to volunteer their time or donations.

”Our organization began with the goal of helping to reunite families separated at the border and reunited or settled in Michigan and Ohio,” says Gina Katz, one of the initiators and organizers of the Michigan Support Group.

The organization begun in July of this year after the exhibit of desperate need by immigrant families in Michigan. The majority of families supported are seeking asylum and from Central America, primarily the countries of Guatemala and Honduras.

Gina Katz continues to add that Michigan Families Together are presently assisting those with enrolling their children into schools, making sure they go to their ICE appointments, and other possible things they could need help with. The MSG also aids with the language barrier, as English is a large hurdle for many to overcome. Most, if not all, government and ICE documents are printed only in English, to which the group helps keep track of and to translate for their families.

One of the overall goals of Michigan Families Together is to help the people survive this tough time by supplying life essentials and also assisting in paying for medical bills. Another goal is to eventually assimilate the immigrated families to society and culture in the United States the best they can, whether it be through ensuring stable status or helping them navigate their new lives.

In addition to the financial hardships suffered by families, winning their immigration case is pivotal to asylum-seekers to continue to legally live in the United States. This becomes progressively difficult as the process drones on.

It is estimated that about half the cases seen by immigration courts are by asylum seekers. Depending on the area, it can sometimes take up to 4 yearsfor a case to be heard, as there are hundreds of others also currently waiting to testify.

Besides wait time, another issue is varying judges. Immigration courts across the country display wildly different case percentages. Pompano Beach, Florida boasts a near 98% deportation rate as compared to San Francisco, California’s average rate of about 33%. There are even judges in the same court who differ greatly. A court in Los Angeles, California has two judges who range between 22% and 74% deportation rates.

The court and judge that an asylum-seeker is assigned to proves essential. This steep difference is clearly dependent upon the political opinion and standing of each judge, and is another unfortunate issue dealt with by asylum seekers

This map illustrates the range of deportation rates across the country (Reuters).

The closest court is located in downtown Detroit in the federal McNamara Building, roughly 14 miles from Divine Child High School. The court has 4 judges who each have high deportation rates consisting of an average of 82.7% and ranging between 80.9% to 85.6% between judges.

The Michigan Immigrant Rights Center (MIRC) is a group centered in providing legally backing to immigrant communities, as well as those who currently have a pending status. They support the many Michigan immigration cases by lending legal help. 

Catherine Pincheck is one of the 25 Chief Counsels for the US Department of Homeland Security, US Immigration & Customs Enforcement representing the areas of Michigan and Ohio. Some of her duties regarding oversight of legal operations include: supervising trial and appellate advocacy on a broad range of legal subjects, controlling attorney written work product, lending provisions technical legal guidance to attorney staff, overseeing of legal advice to the other components of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, and representing U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement in meetings and as liaison with the private bar.

Catherine Pincheck’s responses are her own opinion and are not the opinion of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).

She explains that immigration and asylum cases cannot be grouped into one generalization, but each vary case by case.

Immigration law is very complex. Each case is different, and must be reviewed on an individual basis. Not all asylum seekers are generally considered “illegal” when they enter the United States. Aliens are considered “illegal” if they do not have the proper documentation for entry or admission into the United States, or if they otherwise enter the United States without being admitted or paroled by an immigration officer,” comments Pincheck.

She continues to explain how ICE works to distinguish the valid asylum claims from the fraudulent by reviewing documents provided by the asylum-seekers attempting to establish that they have been persecuted and/or have a well-founded fear of future persecution, as well as country condition evidence relating to the country for which they claim they have been persecuted or fear being persecuted if they return. When one does not have any documents or evidence, the process becomes more difficult and the dissection of any sworn statement before an immigration officer and their testimony in court determines their fate. ICE attorneys examine for consistency and specificity to narrowing the intentions of the said person for coming to the United States.

When asked about the disparity among immigration judges across the US, Pincheck reflects that some judges need to be more impartial, follow the statutes, regulations, and case law when arriving at decision and leave his or her emotions and personal feelings out of case determinations. There is also discussion on contributing more accountability for judges by Executive Office for Immigration Review (EOIR) in bringing cases to finality.

Upon many factors, asylum proves to be a remarkably difficult process to maneuver, especially since most of asylum-seekers are undocumented, underprivileged, and unable to speak English. Despite the large effort brought forth by community groups, such as the Michigan Support Circle and the Michigan Immigration Rights Center, the system of attaining asylum is still rigorous and unneededly positions potentially future American citizens poorly.

The separating of families is only the tip of a large iceberg, which demonstrates there is much more under the surface that has not nearly been discussed enough. The key to understanding is gaining more knowledge of the subject before making opinions. The immigration and asylum process is highly complicated and difficult to fully understand. Cases often vary for a multitude of reasons, therefore, generalizations are not possible. Immigration is not just another news story, but the future of the United States and its people.