Asylum is a special legal privilege the government may grant to certain people who intend to stay in Pennsylvania or another part of the U.S. for a prolonged period because they fear to return to their country of residence due to the possibility of persecution or torture due to their race, nationality, religion, political opinion or connection with a social group. There are two basic processes for being granted asylum depending on the person's present condition.
An affirmative asylum happens when the person is in the United States on good standing and chooses to file a request for asylum with the USCIS. This process is the easiest of the two. The person's case and reason for seeking asylum will be reviewed, and they will attend an interview to present their reasoning. Once the asylum is granted, the person is allowed to seek employment and long-term residency in the country. They can also begin working for green card residency and citizenship.
The other approach to gaining asylum is defensive asylum, and it is more adversarial. A defensive asylum may occur if an initial attempt at affirmative asylum was denied or if the reason the person is seeking asylum is to avoid deportation. Any person found to be entering the country illegally will also be subject to defensive asylum if they wish to stay. A defensive asylum is made before an asylum judge in an adversarial courtroom situation.
In both cases, the basic grounds for asylum are still the same. The person must show that they should remain in the United States because the will face serious persecution or torture should they return to their home country. An affirmative asylum can sometimes be done without much help from legal counsel other than aid in preparing and filing forms. A defensive asylum is more challenging, and an attorney can be of assistance in representing a client during the hearing.
Source: US CIS, "Refugees & Asylum", December 22, 2014