Some Africans escape the terror and undemocratic regimes of their countries without being officially recognized as refugees and must apply for asylum upon arrival. Some asylum seekers arrive with false papers and are imprisoned while their asylum case is decided. These individuals suffer a multiple tragedy – the difficulties of civil unrest in their home country and the resulting psychological trauma, and the inability to access resources for refugees in the U.S. along with the fear of being deported. Many asylum seekers are turned down the first time they apply for this status, and must appeal the decision. The entire procedure can take months or years.

Asylum applicants must prove to the Immigration and Naturalization Service that they are refugees because of a “well-founded fear of persecution on account of race, religion, nationality, membership in a particular social group, or political opinion.” Asylees tell their story to an asylum officer or immigration judge. The official will decide if their story is credible -- that is, if they really are afraid and if conditions in their country make their fear well-founded.  Asylees whose claims are denied are put in “removal proceedings,” and deported back to their country of origin. In addition, individuals who have criminal records, suffer from health problems such as AIDS/HIV, or are seen to present a security risk to the U.S. are denied asylum as a matter of policy.