Asylum for Tribes and Ethnic Groups

By The Law Office of Yifei He, PLLC

The U.S. immigration system provides asylum and refugee protection for people who have been persecuted in their home country. In 2019, the Department of Homeland Security accepted nearly 80,000 asylum and refugee seekers.

What Can Asylum Do?

Asylum seekers can seek protection from persecution by coming to the United States. Many refugees and immigrants need asylum for themselves and their families due to complicated and dire circumstances in their home countries.

The U.S. provides asylum to those who have suffered persecution due to the following:

  • Race
  • Religion
  • Nationality
  • Membership in a particular social group
  • Political opinion

To apply for asylum, you must complete a Form I-589, Application for Asylum, and for Withholding of Removal within one year of arrival to the United States. Thankfully, there is no application fee for asylum.

Those who have asylum can petition to bring their spouse and any children under 21 years of age and unmarried. The process involves filing a I-730 Asylee Petition for your spouse or unmarried child. If you wish to petition for a family member, you should do so within two years of being granted asylum. In addition to petitioning on behalf of a loved one, you can also apply for lawful permanent resident (LPR) status if you have been in the U.S. for at least one year.

What Is an Ethnic Group?

In addition to race, religion, nationality, membership in a social group, and political opinion, the U.S. recognizes those persecuted for their ethnicity as eligible for asylum. It can be difficult to define “ethnic groups” in the context of asylum, and the difference between race or nationality and ethnicity can be unclear. So, what is an ethnic group, and how are they different?

An ethnic group is a social group identified by shared cultural and linguistic history. This is not to be confused with nationality, which refers to citizenship and patriotism within a nation. The difference is that ethnicity exists within the state and outside political boundaries. For example, Kurds spread across Turkey and Iraq share a common language and cultural practices, but they may not share political desires or reside within the same nation. So, in this case, the Kurds share the same ethnic group but not necessarily the same nationality.

Ethnicity is also often associated with race. Many tribes and groups with shared cultural history often have shared ancestry, but race is a term that usually applies to several ethnic groups.

To understand the difference between race and ethnicity, consider Africa. Africa is an expansive continent with over 50 individual countries, including Nigeria. Many Nigerians share common racial characteristics, but Nigeria is also home to over 250 ethnic groups that share their unique cultural practices. The Hausa and Fulani speak their own language and reside in northern Nigeria. In contrast, the Igbo (Ibo) and Yoruba groups in the south speak a different language and share an entirely different culture. Despite living within the same nation and sharing similar racial characteristics, the Igbo and Yoruba belong to a different ethnic group than the Hausa and Fulani. Many Igbo and Yoruba speaking groups have experienced persecution or marginalization due to their culture, language, religion, or all of the above, which would qualify them for asylum.

Defining Ethnic Persecution

A huge part of the asylum process is defining ethnic persecution in the context of the particular social group. Thisis often difficult to prove because ethnic groups do not have visible boundaries, definitive rules or characteristics, unlike race or religion.

Moreover, there needs to be a threat or infliction of physical, psychological, or economic harm by the government or groups the government cannot control on account of the individual’s ethnicity. This nexus requirement is essential in meeting the definition of a refugee under asylum laws. For example, in 1994, the Hutu militia targeted the Tutsis, a separate ethnic group within Rwanda for the reason they were of a different ethnicity. By contrast, being targeted arbitrarily or for an unrelated reason would not qualify you for asylum.

Ethnic persecution does not have to be extremely violent to trigger asylum protections. As long as there is proof that enforcement of a majority or ruling group’s law or actions fall disproportionately on a specific ethnic group, an asylum seeker may qualify for protection. This is a very fact specific inquiry. So persecution in some contexts may be sufficient while not so in others.

If you are seeking asylum, speak with our attorney. We are experienced legal professionals who can help you navigate the complicated asylum process and provide guidance throughout your case.

Contact The Law Office of Yifei He, PLLC, for legal advice you can trust.