Are You Required to Have Legal Representation for Asylum Applications in Chicago?

Understanding the Asylum Application Process

Applying for asylum is a way for those who are being persecuted in their home countries — or have a legitimate fear that they will be — to stay in the United States. To apply for asylum, you must already be in the United States or be seeking to come in at one of the ports of entry. The number of approved asylum petitions varies by year, but it averages around 25,000 to 30,000 per year — and many more are denied. An immigration attorney who is familiar with the laws surrounding asylum status can help you apply and increase your chances of getting approved.

How to Apply for Asylum

There are two ways to apply for asylum in the United States: affirmatively and defensively. Affirmatively means that you are proactively applying for asylum. This generally happens at a port of entry or soon after coming to the United States. Defensive asylum is when you apply for asylum as a way to avoid removal proceedings. Affirmative asylum applications have a higher approval rate than defensive ones, and it’s important to note that you generally only have 1 year from the time you came to the United States to be able to seek asylum.

To apply for asylum, you must fill out the Application for Asylum and for Withholding of Removal, which is immigration Form I-589. You will need to show evidence as to why you are under threat of persecution, and that persecution must be due to race, religion, nationality, membership in a certain social group, or political opinion.

When your application is processed, you will have an interview with a representative of the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services office. You will have the chance to present your case, including evidence, at this interview. The interviewer will make a determination regarding your application, and you will receive a notice of that decision in the mail.

Are You Required to Have an Attorney?

There is no requirement to have an attorney help you apply for asylum or represent you during any part of the process. However, it is in your best interests to hire an experienced asylum attorney for your case. Immigration law is incredibly complex, and applying for asylum can be a daunting experience to go through on your own. An attorney has the specific knowledge and experience that can help ensure you have enough evidence for a strong asylum petition and that you are prepared to present your case at the interview.

Having an attorney who is already familiar with your case and why you are seeking asylum can also help if your application is denied. They will be able to immediately help you with the appeal process and can provide other potential options to help you stay in the country and avoid danger.

Dangers of Going Through the Asylum Process Without an Attorney

Asylum approval rates vary considerably by country of origin. For example, around 41 percent of asylum applications for those from Colombia were denied in 2023, while 3 percent of Ukrainian applications were denied. But statistics show that, overall, petitions are around 5 times more likely to have their asylum applications approved when they have legal representation.

This major difference is likely explained by an attorney having the required legal knowledge to successfully prepare an applicant to present an asylum case. However, it’s also common for those who try to go through the process on their own to make mistakes on the application, to not fully understand their rights, or to be confused about what options they have. When you attempt to seek asylum without an attorney, you are opening yourself up to a higher risk of deportation, which could be very dangerous for you and your family.

Common Reasons Asylum Applications Are Denied

Asylum applications can be denied for many reasons, but there are some that are more common than others. These include:

  • Failure to file within the 1-year timeframe. You only have 12 months from the time you enter the United States or arrive at a port of entry to apply for asylum. If you have been in the country for longer than one year, your application is likely to be automatically denied.
  • Errors or an incomplete application. Applying for asylum is stressful, and it’s easy to make small mistakes when you are filling out the application that could result in your petition being denied. Any missing information, missing signatures, or small errors such as listing the wrong address or birthdate could cause the application to be rejected.
  • Not having enough evidence. With your application, you must present evidence as to why you are in fear for your safety and what type of persecution you are facing. If you don’t have clear or compelling evidence, your application could be denied.
  • Problems with the interview. The interview is one of the most important parts of the asylum application process, and not spending enough time preparing for it can cause problems with your application. It’s normal to be nervous at the interview, and you may forget specific details of your case or say things that don’t match up with your application. Working with an attorney can ensure that you are prepared for the interview process and understand how to present your case for the best chances of approval.

If you need help with an asylum application or any other immigration action, Gilliam Law can help. Call our office at 866-511-3422 to schedule a consultation and find out how we have represented clients in similar situations and how we can help you.


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