WHAT IS RIF ASYLUM SUPPORT?
RIF is a Welcome Center for Asylum Seekers in NYC. It is open to people from all nationalities, faiths, and sexual orientations who have suffered persecution in their home countries.
Through legal orientations and access to survival resources, we help asylum seekers get back on their feet and rebuild safer lives.
WHY WAS RIF ESTABLISHED?
RIF was was established in 2006 to fill a void: the lack of guidance and support for asylum seekers when they first arrive in New York City. This vacuum is too often filled by unscrupulous immigration practitioners who take advantage of the naivety and vulnerability of asylum seekers. Since we stepped in to address that void, RIF has served over a thousand asylum seekers.
In addition to the vacuum of reception services, the anti-refugee policies enacted by the Trump administration in 2017 have created a climate of fear among those who came to seek protection and who more than ever are in need of guidance.
WHO IS AN ASYLUM SEEKER?
An asylum seeker is a person who enters the U.S. with a visa or crosses the border and then applies for asylum. These individuals are often forced to flee their native country rapidly to seek protection, and therefore often arrive unprepared for life in NYC with little to no information on the asylum process.
WHY DO ASYLUM SEEKERS FLEE THEIR HOMELANDS?
The majority of asylum seekers who seek RIF’s guidance were political activists or journalists who faced incarceration and torture by their own governments or majority groups for speaking out against human rights violations. Many have been persecuted because of their sexual orientation or work related to LGBTQ rights.
WHERE DO THEY COME FROM?
Most have made their way here from Africa, South Asia, Latin America and the Middle East.
Asylum Law in the U.S.
The right to seek asylum is recognized in the U.S. through its signing of the 1967 international Protocol Relating to the Status of Refugees, which was later incorporated into domestic federal law through the adoption of the Refugee Act (1980). Both are based on Article 14 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which states that "everyone has the right to seek and to enjoy in other countries asylum from persecution.”
Under these agreements, a refugee is a person who is outside of their own country's territory (or, if stateless, outside of their place of habitual residence) owing to fear of persecution on protected grounds. Protected grounds include race, caste, nationality, religion, political opinions and membership and/or participation in any particular social group or social activities (these can include LGBTQ individuals and victims of sexual violence).
An asylum seeker must make the case that he or she has been persecuted on one of the above grounds in order to gain refugee status.
HOW DO THEY FIND RIF?
Asylum seekers find us through referrals from other agencies in the city such as IRC and Catholic Charities, or through former clients. They are increasingly reaching us via social media and our website.
WHAT DO ASYLUM SEEKERS NEED WHEN THEY FIRST ARRIVE TO THE CITY, AND HOW DOES RIF ADDRESS THESE NEEDS?
ARE ASYLUM SEEKERS A THREAT TO U.S. SECURITY? WHAT IS RIF POSITION’S ON THIS ISSUE?
The recent terrorists attacks on U.S. and European soil have led many to question the safety of admitting refugees into the U.S. As a result, the refugee resettlement process, which historically garnered political consensus, has come under attack for being too lax in its vetting process (regardless of the fact that the U.S. vetting process is the most intensive of its kind).
While we support the refugee resettlement path, we also believe that it cannot be a substitute to the asylum seeking process. We firmly believe that the asylum process serves a critical purpose: it provides refuge to individuals who are in danger of immediate harm, who are not in the position to be rescued by the refugee resettlement process. Asylum is meant for those who are personally targeted due to their identity, which means that they are not necessarily living in a war-torn country where mass numbers of people are displaced into refugee camps.
Asylum seekers are often people who become endangered very suddenly, by the results of an election or a sudden act of violence, so they do not have the ability to await assistance in their home country, where there is no source of protection. Therefore, we believe that asylum seekers should receive more support upon being admitted into this country.
We favor registration centers that would screen incoming asylum seekers as well as welcome centers that would guide newcomers through the process of seeking asylum (as RIF strives to do). These centers would help ensure that we know who is entering our country as early as possible.
Are Asylum Seekers Liars and Frauds?
The basic assumption of the Trump administration is that asylum seekers are frauds. This understanding of those seeking the protection of the U.S. has informed several new policies enacted to discourage those who flee from seeking asylum.
For example, United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) recently and abruptly reversed the order it hears asylum claims (read more about the policy change here).
As a result, asylum seekers who have already waited two or three years for an asylum interview are now left in limbo indefinitely, separated from their loved ones for an unknown period of time. On the other hand, newly arriving asylum seekers now have an extremely short time to gather evidence, find a lawyer, and make their case adequately. Unprepared and often misguided, they risk being quickly put into removal proceedings (which is what the Trump administration wants). The end result is that asylum seekers live in fear of being arrested by ICE.
We at RIF believe that everyone has a fair chance to be heard. Through our legal consultations, we have a chance to screen those who have the most urgent and deserving need of assistance.
We also refuse to condemn or judge those who take the courageous decision to leave everything behind in order to secure a better life for their families. While we understand that some may not qualify for asylum, these are human beings who have become “economic migrants” as a result of massive inequality and corrupt regimes (which in many cases are supported by the U.S. government).