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Sponsoring Asylum Seekers

The Asylum Process

In the United States, the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA), established in 1952, states that anyone who steps foot onto US soil, whether legally or illegally, has the right to request asylum. When they do so, they begin a very complicated legal process that involves the Department of Justice, represented by the Executive Office of Immigration Review (EOIR); Customs and Border Protection (CBP); Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE); and the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS). If unaccompanied minors are the applicants, Health and Human Services is also involved.

Once a person has pleaded asylum, he or she is placed in CBP detention and ideally given a Credible Fear Interview within a few days, administered by an Asylum Officer from USCIS. In actuality, the CFI may not be scheduled for weeks or even months due to lengthy backups. The interview lasts approximately 90 minutes and includes at least 40 questions. If the Officer decides that the applicant might be able to establish eligibility for asylum in Immigration Court, they might be placed into long term detention under ICE’s supervision. They may be given a Notice to Appear (NTA) in Immigration Court. They may be placed in an Alternatives to Detention Program (ATD), which involves location monitoring using GPS.

The process ends when an Immigration Judge (IJ) from EOIR decides whether the applicant is eligible for relief as defined by law and is granted Asylum, Withholding of Removal, or protection under the Conventions Against Torture (CAT). If he or she is granted Asylum, they become eligible to apply for Legal Permanent Resident (LPR) status, with its limited benefits, a year later, and can apply for citizenship five years after that. If they are denied Asylum but the judge believes it is too dangerous for them to return home, they may be granted Withholding of Removal, Conventions Against Torture (CAT), or Temporary Protected Status (TPS) instead. These are temporary forms of relief and do not offer the possibility of LPR status or citizenship. If they are denied relief, they are deported.


The detention center in Aurora, CO is run by GEO and can house approximately 1,500 people, although currently, the numbers are much lower. The detention center looks and is run exactly like a prison, even though asylum seekers have probably not been charged with any crimes except Entry Without Inspection or a related charge, which are misdemeanors.

With them in detention are many others without documentation, which might include those with expired DACA applications, those who are married to US citizens and/or have citizen children (but have not applied to adjust their status), those who have been picked up in ICE raids whether or not they have committed a crime, those picked up from jail and prison who have served a sentence for crimes they actually did commit, and those who cannot be deported because their home country will not issue travel documents. All may be held in detention for the duration of their legal process, which can take weeks, months or even years.

It is very difficult to prepare an asylum case that will demonstrate eligibility for asylum while in detention. Family and friends may not be able to visit and provide support due to distance or lack of status themselves. Documents and other evidence needed to defend their case in court are difficult to procure. Applications and other forms must be submitted in English, and without error, which is difficult to do if the applicant does not speak English or is illiterate. It is hard to find out how the legal process works, when they will appear in court, and what is required by the court. Isolation, difficult conditions, lack of timely medical care, abuse by guards, and trauma all contribute to discouragement and depression. They usually do not have the financial resources to hire a lawyer to represent them, and finding a pro bono lawyer is nearly impossible, so they must represent themselves.

Throughout the process, those in detention are regularly offered the opportunity to abandon their case and agree to be deported.

However, it is possible for family, friends or others to petition for parole from ICE or release on bond from EOIR. Since they have no financial resources of their own and are not allowed to work, they must be released to someone who can support them until their final hearing, referred to as “sponsors”. If they are released, most go to Casa de Paz, and the volunteers there provide hot meals, temporary housing, toiletries and clothing, and assistance making arrangements to travel to their sponsors. However, particularly with asylum seekers, some know no one in the United States, and have nowhere to go.

In Colorado, the Rocky Mountain Immigrant Advocacy Network (RMIAN), a group of pro bono immigration lawyers works tirelessly to assist those who are detained in a variety of ways. In this process, they identify asylum seekers who have a viable case, are committed to fighting for it, and have no one in the US to refer for sponsorship.

The Colorado Hosting Asylum Network was formed to step into this space and “sponsor” asylum seekers, at times petitioning for their release from detention if necessary. In this case, "sponsoring" means that we provide a place for asylum seekers to live - it is not a long-term legal or financial commitment. In other situations, we are referred potential clients who are not detained (but still in a very unstable living situation) by our partner organizations. In both cases, CHAN hosts provide a home and community until they are able to apply for a work permit and to re-establish an independent life of their choosing. Because their needs are usually extensive and they are denied the ability to work for several months, the host and guest are surrounded by a support team to share the responsibility to secure legal assistance, medical and mental health care, and help them learn to navigate their new country while they decide what to do next. Together, we work towards a successful case with the grant of relief from the Immigration Judge and the establishment of an independent life in the United States.

- CHAN Executive Director

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