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Migrant caravan stirs asylum debate

Arizona residents have likely read reports about the migrant caravan that's currently making its way from Honduras to the United States. The migrants making this difficult trip say that they are fleeing violence and poverty in their home country and plan to seek asylum in America. The journey is necessary because the rules for asylum claims are strict and individuals must already be in the country or present themselves at a recognized port of entry to apply.

The asylum process was originally put into place by the United Nations in 1951 and became part of U.S. law with the 1990 passage of the Immigration and Nationality Act. The rules state that asylum should be granted to individuals who can provide credible evidence that they would face persecution if they were forced to return to their home countries based on their race, nationality, religion or beliefs.

Critics of the caravan say that the migrants heading to the United States are refugees, not asylum seekers, and should be making their claims in Honduras. This is an argument that is unlikely to deter further caravans as President Trump has already acted twice to reduce the annual number of refugees admitted into the country. The 22,491 refugees the United States admitted in 2017 was an all-time low. Many immigrant advocacy groups believe that more caravans are likely in the coming months due to worsening economic conditions in Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador.

Immigration judges only grant asylum when they believe that fears of persecution are genuine and credible. Attorneys with experience in this area could help asylum seekers gather the kind of evidence that judges are likely to find convincing. Legal counsel could also explain the various other paths to residency in the United States that are available to those who do not qualify for asylum.

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