Recent world news has put religious persecution in the spotlight. From the Palm Sunday church bombings in Egypt to stories of Syrian Christians being commanded to “convert or die,” we see people around the globe facing serious consequences due to their religious commitments—often at the hands of their own governments. Unfortunately, these high-profile examples are far from isolated incidents.
For example, at least 100 million people in China belong to religious groups that are subject to “high” or “very high” levels of persecution. Currently, the U.S. Department of State lists Burma, China, Eritrea, Iran, North Korea, Saudi Arabia, Sudan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan as “countries of particular concern” with regard to religious freedom.
The United States offers asylum to people around the world who are at risk of being persecuted due to their religious convictions. Here are six things you should know about religious asylum in the United States.
- U.S. immigration law offers protection from religious persecution. Like political dissidents, those facing religious persecution in their home countries may be eligible for asylum in the United States.
- Religious persecution need not come directly from the government. While official penalties for professing a religious conviction or practicing a religion may provide grounds for a grant of religious asylum, societal persecution or abuse from one’s family or other authorities on religious grounds may also be sufficient if the government turns a blind eye to or implicitly sanctions the treatment.
- You may be able to pursue religious asylum even if you have not been personally targeted. If your country’s laws prohibit religious practices that are integral to your faith, you may be able to petition for asylum although you have not personally been persecuted.
- Not all religious asylum cases involve major world religions. Although we most commonly hear about practitioners of large, established religions such as Christianity, Judaism and Islam being persecuted, the definition of what constitutes a religion can actually be much broader.
- You must generally be a faithful practitioner of your religion to seek asylum. Simply having been born into a religion is generally not sufficient to establish religious persecution for asylum purposes. The persecution must impact your freedom to practice your religion.
- You must be present in the United States to apply for asylum. Petitioning for asylum is not a means of gaining entry to the United States. Rather, a person who is already in the U.S. may either affirmatively petition for asylum or request asylum as a defense in removal proceedings.
If you are in the United States and fear returning to your home country because of religious persecution, or are unable to practice your religion at home for fear of repercussions, your next step should be to speak with an experienced U.S. immigration lawyer. Contact us today to learn more about your rights and options.