If I have been convicted of a crime will I be given asylum in the United States?

There are certain types of illegal activities which will bar you from receiving asylum within the United States. For instance, according to immigration law, you will not receive asylum if you are considered a danger to the security of the United States, if you have committed and been convicted of a serious crime, or if you have participated in the persecution of others or terroristic activities. Additionally, asylum seekers will be denied entry into the United States if they have committed a serious, non-political crime outside of the United States.

Can I challenge the asylum denial?

Yes, if you have completed Form I-589 and been denied asylum, you have the right to request a hearing to challenge the denial. At the hearing, the court will allow you to present evidence to explain your criminal record. The immigration judge will decide if there is a preponderance of evidence to prove you are not guilty. Specifically, they will review whether you were convicted by a jury or judge, whether you pleaded guilty, or whether or not you disputed the charges the state or federal government filed against you. The judge will also consider whether the conviction is final or whether there are outstanding appeals. Most asylum seekers will hire an immigration lawyer to help them with their case.

What crimes does the government consider serious?

Crimes are divided into felonies and misdemeanors. Serious crimes are generally felonies and can include:

  • Murder
  • Money laundering of funds greater than $10,000
  • Explosive trafficking
  • Drug trafficking
  • Prostitution
  • Fraud
  • Tax evasion
  • Child pornography or sexual abuse of a child
  • Smuggling of undocumented aliens (except a first offense to help your immediate family members)
  • Reentry into the United States illegally after a deportation for an aggravated felony.
  • Drug related convictions for drugs, excluding marijuana

Immigration laws do not clearly identify every crime which could bar asylum for asylum seekers. Immigration judges will have some discretion to determine if an applicant should be allowed to enter the United States. Considerations which the court will have the legal right to review will include the length of time you were sentenced, the type of crime committed, whether you are a danger to the community, if you have family members who legally live in the United States, and whether you have paid your taxes.

The crime I committed was outside of the United States. Will this matter?

Whether you have committed a crime inside or outside of the United States will not matter to the court, but there are specific crimes which will automatically bar you from seeking asylum in the United States. For instance, if you have persecuted another person, particularly if they are considered a protected group based on their race, religion, nationality, membership in a particular social group, or political opinion, or if you have participated in terroristic activity outside of the United States, you will not receive asylum.

Some applicants may be afraid that imprisonment alone could keep them from gaining asylum but this is not necessarily the case. Immigration courts understand that many asylum seekers will have suffered persecution from their governments, which could include false imprisonment. With this in mind, if you have been in prison due to persecution, rather than criminal activity, this will not necessarily hurt your case. The best thing to do is to talk to an immigration lawyer who can review your case.

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