While Congress continues to debate the benefits of the immigration program and some people talk about whether we should allow anyone into the country, there is one undeniably positive part of the American immigration system: asylum. Granting individuals asylum provides protection from persecution and torture; it gives them a safe place to live their lives. There are many people in Lancaster who have come to the United States as asylum seekers and refugees, but first they had to go through the rigorous process of applying for asylum.
We have previously talked about asylum, the process that the U.S. government uses to protect people who have suffered persecution in their home countries for a variety of reasons. In order to qualify for asylum, people must be persecuted for one of five reasons: political opinion, religion, race, nationality or membership in a particular social group. It is also acceptable for someone to fear future persecution based on one of those categories, too.
Imagine fleeing your home country afraid that if you don't get out, you will be killed. You are targeted because of something that you really can't change or shouldn't have to change, like your political beliefs, your membership in a specific social group or your sexual orientation. Imagine finally getting out and finding your way to Lancaster. You even make it through the difficult asylum process and are given a green card. You are living happily in a safe, new home, but you notice that your neighbors and community members are suspicious of you. Unfortunately, this is a phenomenon that many asylum seekers experience when trying to settle in the United States.
In a recent decision by the full United States Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals, young Albanian women who live alone do meet the definition of a "social group" and, thus, can be given asylum in the United States, so long as they meet the other criteria required of them. Although this ruling does not directly affect Reading, it does provide some guidance to immigration judges adjudicating asylum applications in Pennsylvania.
Many people in Philadelphia are proud of the fact that the United States remains a choice destination for people fleeing violence and carnage in their own countries. Not only is our country an attractive destination, but it also does a lot to protect people of the violence they faced in their home countries, in part through the asylum program. As long as someone has a well-founded fear of persecution based on membership to a specific social group, race, religion, political opinion or nationality, he or she can ostensibly apply for asylum in Philadelphia.