WASHINGTON — D.C. based non-profit groups receiving migrants on buses from Texas and Arizona say that almost all the people arriving are asylum seekers with pending immigration cases.
"They are following the law, they are not breaking the law," immigration lawyer Jose Campos said. The Maryland-based attorney says immigration officers have an obligation to help those that attempt to claim asylum, if the officer determines that there is a credible danger for the individual.
"They have to give something called reasonable fear which means that an officer finds them credible, that their story is credible then the officer has a duty to help this person," Campos said.
Asylum is granted to those that can prove that they have suffered persecution or fear that they will, due to their race, religion, nationality, membership in a particular social group, or political opinion, according to U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services.
Marilyn, an asylum seeker from Venezuela staying in one of the hotels provided by the D.C. government, told WUSA9 that the first step in her family's legal process was turning themselves in to immigration officers at the southern border. There, they had to present their case and convince the officers that returning to their native country posed a threat.
Marilyn says her husband spoke out against the Venezuela government while he served in the military, which made the entire family a target. The family that includes five boys entered the U.S. on Sept. 8.
Once in U.S. territory, asylum seekers have to formally present their asylum application which, according to Campos, can be done in an immigration officer or an immigration court. After that, they must await for their day in court which can take months or even years, Campos said.
"You go to trial, their life is on trial. If you were a victim of a crime," Campos said. "You have to prove to the judge that you were a victim of a crime and all these horrible things happened to you."
Campos says that these asylum cases tend to pose difficulties because applicants struggle to obtain sufficient evidence to corroborate their stories.
"Asylum is the hardest thing that you can win in the immigration system, period," Campos said.
Sixty-three percent of asylum cases were denied during the 2021 fiscal year according to Syracuse University's tracking system TRAC. Under the Biden Administration asylum seekers are seeing greater success rates in securing a stay in the country according to TRAC. The Trump Administration denial rate for these cases peaked at 71% during the 2020 fiscal year.
Asylum applicants are eligible to request work authorization in the U.S. five months after they file their application.
"I estimate that in five months they will get a work permit and they are legally authorized a work," Campos said. He has had clients that have had to wait seven years for the conclusion of their asylum case.
Some migrants that are being sheltered at the D.C. hotels have started working as day laborers as they await their legal process to proceed.