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Can I apply for asylum with a criminal record?

On Behalf of | Aug 3, 2023 | Asylum

The process of seeking asylum is intricate as a matter of course. But, the situation can become even more complex for someone with a criminal record seeking asylum in the United States. Having a criminal record won’t necessarily disqualify an individual from being granted asylum, but it will add complexity to the process.

Asylum is a form of protection a nation grants to individuals fleeing persecution in their home country due to race, religion, nationality, membership in a particular social group or political opinion. The United States, as part of its commitment to international human rights, offers asylum to such individuals. However, there are certain factors and limitations to be considered.

How a criminal record can impact asylum eligibility

The impact of a criminal record on an individual’s asylum eligibility primarily depends on the nature and severity of the crime. Not all crimes are treated the same in the eyes of U.S. immigration law. Some minor offenses or crimes committed long ago may not necessarily affect an asylum claim.

The Immigration and Nationality Act stipulates that certain crimes, known as “particularly serious crimes,” can make an individual ineligible for asylum. These can include, but aren’t limited to, aggravated felonies. Determining what constitutes a “particularly serious crime” can be somewhat subjective and often depends on the specific details of the crime in question.

Discretion of the adjudicating authority

Even if an asylum seeker has a criminal record, the adjudicating authority has a level of discretion when reviewing their application. They may consider factors such as the severity of the crime, the applicant’s remorse and rehabilitation, the length of the sentence and the time elapsed since the conviction.

It’s important to note that the adjudicating authority’s discretion only applies in cases that don’t involve particularly serious crimes. If the asylum seeker has been convicted of such a crime, they are statutorily barred from receiving asylum, regardless of any other mitigating factors. Anyone who has a criminal record and who has questions about how that reality may affect an asylum claim could benefit from seeking legal guidance for greater clarity.