Frequently Asked Questions

A resource for common questions about refugees, asylum seekers, and survivors of human trafficking

Powered by Logo for refugee services of texas

Refugee Resettlement

Who is a refugee?

A refugee is someone who has been forced to flee his or her country because of persecution, war, or violence. A refugee has a well-founded fear of persecution for reasons of race, religion, nationality, political opinion, or membership in a particular social group. Most likely, they cannot return home or are afraid to do so. War and ethnic, tribal, and religious violence are among the leading causes of refugees fleeing their countries.


What is the history of refugee resettlement in the US?

Refugees have been coming to our shores since the pilgrims fled religious persecution. The U.S. Congress enacted the first refugee legislation in 1948 following the admission of more than 250,000 displaced Europeans from World War II. This legislation provided for the admission of an additional 400,000 displaced Europeans in the coming years. Later laws provided for the admission of persons fleeing Communism, largely from China, Hungary, Korea, Poland, and Yugoslavia, and in the 1960s, Cubans fleeing Fidel Castro’s regime.

Following the Vietnam War, the U.S. faced the challenge of resettling hundreds of thousands of Vietnamese refugees. As a result, Congress passed The Refugee Act of 1980, which standardized federally supported resettlement services for all refugees admitted to the United States. This Act incorporates the definition of “refugee” used in the U.N. Refugee Convention and provides for regular and emergency admission of refugees of all nationalities. The Refugee Act provided the legal basis for the establishment of The Office of Refugee Resettlement at the Department of Health and Human Services.

Since 1975, the U.S. has resettled more than three million refugees. Most come from Vietnam or the former Soviet Union, though more than 70 nationalities are represented. Since the enactment of the Refugee Act of 1980, annual admissions figures have ranged from a high of 207,116 in 1980, to a low of 27,100 in the year following September 11, 2001.


Where in Texas does RST resettle refugees?

RST resettles refugees in Amarillo, Austin, Dallas, Fort Worth, Houston, and the Rio Grande Valley.


Are refugees the same as immigrants?

An immigrant is someone who leaves their country—often by choice—and seeks residence in a new country. The fundamental difference between a refugee and an immigrant is that refugees feel the need to flee their homes, whereas immigrants have more of a choice.


How many refugees come to the U.S. each year?

The United States resettled the following numbers of refugees each year since FY 2014:

69,987 in FY 2014

69,933 in FY 2015

84,995 in FY 2016

53,700 in FY 2017

22,500 in FY 2018

30,000 in FY 2019

11,814 in FY 2020

The annual refugee admissions ceiling for FY 2021 was set at 15,000, the lowest level on record. Under the current presidential administration, that number has been raised to 62,500.


Where do most refugees come from?

68% of those displaced across borders come from just five countries: Syria, Venezuela, Afghanistan, South Sudan, and Myanmar.


How long do refugees remain in camps before they are resettled?

The average length of time that refugees spend in refugee camps is 17 years.


Is it safe to resettle refugees?

Refugees are not dangerous; they are the ones fleeing danger. They come to our shores fully vetted and documented, often traumatized and bereft of loved ones. Refugees are screened under the strictest inter-agency security process ever devised, which includes registration and data collection by the UNHCR; interviews and data cross-referencing through the Department of State; security checks through the National Counterterrorism Center, FBI, Department of Homeland Security, Department of Defense, Department of State, and others; a DHS interview; biometric security checks; medical checks; and a cultural orientation.


How are refugees screened before they arrive?

Here is a visual aid of the refugee screening process:

How does the resettlement process work?

The U.S. State Department, in consultation with other agencies and organizations, manages the process through its refugee admission program, USRAP. The first step for a potential refugee abroad is usually to register with the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR). UNHCR officials collect documentation, perform an initial screening, and then refer qualifying individuals to U.S. State Department Resettlement Support Centers (RSCs), of which there are nine around the world. Then, RSC officials interview the applicants, verify their personal data, and submit their information for background checks by a suite of U.S. national security agencies. These security checks include multiple forms of biometric screening, including cross-checks of global fingerprint databases and medical tests. If none of these inquiries produce problematic results, including criminal histories, past immigration violations, connections to terrorist groups, or communicable diseases, the applicant can be cleared for entry to the United States. The admissions process generally takes from eighteen months to two years to complete.


How much does it cost to resettle a refugee?

On average, it costs about $15,000 to help settle a refugee, including both initial background checks as well as job and English training once they arrive.

A study from the National Bureau of Economic Research found that refugees who entered the US as adults from 2010 to 2014 paid, on average, $21,000 more in taxes than they received in any kind of welfare payments.


Can refugees legally work in the U.S.?

As a refugee, you may work immediately upon arrival to the United States. When you are admitted to the United States you will receive a Form I-94 containing a refugee admission stamp.


How do refugees affect the economy?

Refugees positively impact the U.S. economy, contribute billions of dollars each year to the economy through consumer spending and business start-ups, resulting in a net positive fiscal impact. Additionally, refugees help to revitalize declining areas and drive the creation of vibrant communities where Americans proudly call home. Male refugees of working age had a 67 percent employment rate from 2009 to 2011, while native-born males had only a 60 percent employment rate during the same time period. Refugee women were just as likely as native-born women to be employed.


When can someone with refugee status become a U.S. citizen?

Everyone wishing to apply for U.S. citizenship (naturalization) must prove that he or she has had permanent residence (a Green Card) for a minimum number of years – usually five years. If you were granted refugee status while in another country and then entered the U.S. as a refugee, you can count your date of U.S. entry as the beginning of your permanent residence. All years spent as a refugee in the U.S. will count toward the required five years of permanent residence for naturalization eligibility.


What is a Special Immigrant?

A special immigrant is a person who qualifies for a Green Card (permanent residence) under the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) special immigrant program. In order to apply for immigration documents under this status, an individual must fill out a petition documenting his or her circumstances and submit the petition to USCIS. For more information about how to apply under a particular special immigrant group, click on one of the links below.

  • Religious Workers
  • Panama Canal Company or Canal Zone Government Employees
  • International Organization Employees or Family Members
  • Broadcaster
  • NATO-6 Nonimmigrant
  • Physician National Interest Waiver
  • Juvenile Court Dependents
  • Armed Forces Members
  • Afghanistan or Iraq nationals who supported the U.S. Armed Forces as translators
  • Iraq nationals who worked for or on behalf of the U.S. Government in Iraq


Can refugees get deported?

Withholding of removal is a mandatory form of protection from deportation for many refugees. It prohibits the U.S. government from deporting a non-citizen to a country in which the immigrant’s life would be in danger because of his or her race, religion, nationality, political opinion, or membership in a particular social group. Withholding of removal is not available, however, to a refugee who has been convicted of an aggravated felony or another offense judged to be a “particularly serious crime.”


Are refugees allowed to return to their home?

Once the reasons for being displaced or having fled have disappeared and it is safe again to live in a refugee’s country of origin, refugees are free to return home. The returnees are still people of concern to the UNHCR and are, as such, under their legal protection.


Why is it important for the U.S. to resettle refugees?

Refugees serve as the moral backbone of America, fostering a society that has welcomed diversity in our communities and honored differences of both faith and culture. The United States has long offered safe haven to people fleeing violence, tyranny, and persecution. Welcoming refugees is not just a lifesaving humanitarian imperative at a time when more people worldwide are uprooted by war and crisis than ever before. Refugees are an integral part of American innovation and businesses, filling roles as entrepreneurs and leaders and building companies such as Google, Comcast, and Thermo Fischer. Refugees are an indispensable part of American society who introduce new ideas and backgrounds, thereby enriching our society.




Why do refugee families get separated sometimes?

The reasons that refugee families can sometimes become separated are numerous, and the separation can be either by accident or intentional.

When families flee war, a sudden political upheaval, or natural disaster, they may not have had the time or resources to plan their departure, and they become separated in the chaos. For example, in the confusion that happens after a military attack on a civilian population, one family member may assume that a child is safely with another family member who in turn assumes that the child is safe with another as they all struggle to get away. When they regroup at a safer location such as a refugee camp, they may find that the child has been left behind.

Sometimes, family separation happens when a parent or child is killed or injured in a natural disaster or military attack, or is detained or murdered by an oppressive government. In other cases, children may be abducted by human traffickers, or families can be separated by opposing forces, so either the adults or the children can be used for slave labor or forced to serve in the military.

There have also been instances when children are mistakenly taken from their families by people with good intentions. If parents temporarily leave their children to look for food, or the children momentarily wander off, aid workers, police, or others may assume that the children need help and take them away to find help.

Additionally, in societies facing dire poverty, families at the end of their resources may make the decision to separate intentionally. In these cases, parents may leave their children behind to seek aid elsewhere, or surrender their children to other family members, foster families, orphanages, or even strangers, often in neighboring countries, in the hopes that they will take care of them and that the children will have a better life. Children can even get lost in the system as their families leave them temporarily with medical institutions to treat their injuries or aid organizations mix up their records.

Sometimes the children themselves leave their parents because they want to be independent. On their own, they are vulnerable to being coerced into joining armed forces, extremist religious organizations, or militant groups.


Finally, the children of refugees can be separated from their parents arbitrarily by the government of the country to which the families are fleeing, as is the case with the policies announced by the United States in April 2018. These policies required children of asylum-seeking families to be kept in U.S. detention centers while the parents were deported.


It’s important to note that family separations are not always a matter of children being separated from their parents. Husbands and wives can become separated, as can care-dependent elderly family members and other members of a family unit.


Why is it difficult to reunite refugee families sometimes?

When people flee a difficult or life-threatening situation and become refugees, their numbers can quickly swell into the thousands, hundreds of thousands, or even millions.


When organizations and countries try to assist these refugees, the workload can be enormous, resulting in poor record keeping, badly organized evacuation strategies, and other actions that add to the challenges of reunifying families in the future, especially if the assisting organizations and countries are quick to set up children with foster families and adoptive parents.


To make matters worse, sometimes a part of a family can be sent to one country for permanent resettlement while other family members are processed for temporary asylum in another country. Or sometimes, family members wind up in separate countries for permanent resettlement. These situations add both distance and national immigration laws to the challenges that families face when they try to reunite.


What is life like for refugees in resettlement camps?

To understand what life is like for refugees in resettlement camps, you can first think about what it would be like for you, right now, to find yourself forced away from home, separated from your family, and with nothing but the clothes you’re wearing right now as your possessions. You may have no idea where your mother and father are, or your brothers and sisters. You don’t know what’s happened to your dog or your cat. You have only the money that happens to be in your pocket, and your new home for the foreseeable future is a tent, or maybe a large building, where you’ll live with thousands of total strangers who are also in desperate situations. Every so-called refugee started out as someone just like you, who was swept away from everything that’s normal by a sudden chaotic and awful situation with no hope of returning home.


Refugee camps are almost always temporary facilities set up to handle a crisis so that the essential needs of food and water for those who are fleeing can be provided, as well as humanitarian services and medical attention.


Despite the best efforts of the aid organizations and other agencies that establish refugee camps, those who’ve experienced life in a refugee camp report conditions that lead to physical and mental trauma. Camps are often isolated in remote areas with little to no contact with the rest of the world. Refugees can feel like prisoners, kept behind barbed-wire fences and unable to leave. They often lack protection from extremely cold or hot weather. Guards may not have the best interest of the refugees in mind and may take advantage of them, abuse them, or simply fail to meet their basic needs for food and water or medical attention. Women and children are especially vulnerable to rape, brutality, and abuse.

It is not uncommon for refugees to develop Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (P.T.S.D.), clinical depression, and suicidal tendencies as a result of the abuse they receive from the time they spend in a refugee camp.


What services does RST provide for refugees?

RST serves refugees, asylum seekers, victims of human trafficking, and other displaced persons in Austin, Dallas, Fort Worth, Amarillo, Houston, and the Rio Grande Valley. RST provides its clients with resettlement services and legal assistance while helping refugees overcome some of the most difficult obstacles in relocating to a new country: finding a job, learning English, and integrating into the local community.

RST also offers refugees help in becoming U.S. citizens, or in obtaining the right to stay and work in the U.S. as immigrants. Additionally, RST can help families file reunification petitions and find lost family members.


RST’s Youth Mentoring Program helps people from ages 15 to 24 as they adapt to life in a new country and get to know American culture, which is important for integrating with their new community and learning how to become independent.

How do refugees fare once they get here?

More than 75% of refugees to the U.S. become independent Americans. After which, they are subject to about the same rates of success as every native-born citizen: becoming homeowners at about the same rate and remaining employed at about the same rate. They own businesses, pay taxes, and succeed as contributing members of society, just like everyone else.


Who interprets and translates for refugees?

Learning English is one of the biggest challenges refugees must overcome. Although volunteers for RST and other refugee support organizations can teach individual refugees basic English conversation skills over time, refugees still need immediate assistance with interpretation and translation services as they work out their legal status and employment.

RST, along with other community organizations, helps refugees with translation and interpretation, relying on volunteers to use their dual language skills to help those who are still learning English.



Why is refugee resettlement a contentious issue?

Anytime the topic of refugees comes to national attention, it is met with strong opinions both for and against allowing people who need help to come into the country. The reasons that people have for opposing giving refugees help are diverse but are driven by a few main sentiments.

  • Fear of immigrants competing with native citizens for jobs.
  • Fear of immigrants needing government assistance which results in higher taxes.


  • Fear that immigrants will lead to security issues and an increase in crime.
  • Fear that immigrants will bring their traditions to their new home and change the culture of the host country.


The current rhetoric against refugees that comes from some circles in America is not a new phenomenon and can be traced back to at least the Holocaust, in which European Jewish refugees were denied entry to the U.S. and sent back – some to their deaths. Americans have since recognized the disconnect that anti-refugee policies present in light of basic American values about welcoming vulnerable people into society.

Survivors of Trafficking

What is human trafficking?

Human Trafficking is defined in the UN’s Trafficking in Persons Protocol as “the recruitment, transport, transfer, harbouring or receipt of a person by such means as threat or use of force or other forms of coercion, abduction, fraud or deception for the purpose of exploitation.”

The definition of trafficking consists of three core elements:

  • The action of trafficking which means the recruitment, transportation, transfer, harboring, or receipt of persons
  • The means of trafficking which includes threat of or use of force, deception, coercion, abuse of power, or position of vulnerability
  • The purpose of trafficking is always exploitation, which includes but is not limited to the prostitution of others or other forms of sexual exploitation, forced labor or services, slavery or practices similar to slavery, servitude, etc.


What’s the difference between trafficking and smuggling?

Human trafficking involves exploiting and coercing men, women, or children for the purposes of forced labor or commercial sexual exploitation. Human smuggling, alternatively, involves the provision of a service—typically, transportation or fraudulent documents—to an individual who voluntarily seeks to gain illegal entry into a foreign country.


Why does a person stay with their trafficker for so long? Why don’t persons being trafficked leave their perpetrators sooner?

Although running away or calling for help appear to be simple, feasible solutions, victims of human trafficking are experiencing both physical and psychological abuse that hinders the possibility of escape.

Intimidation: there are threats of violence against the victim’s family and loved ones.

Emotional attachment: traffickers manipulate victims to believe they love them.

Debt bondage: the trafficker requires their victims to repay all debt (real or not real) before they can be liberated.

Isolation: the victim is unfamiliar with the language of the country they are in and often do not know how to get around.


How big of a problem is human trafficking in the U.S.?

It is estimated that between 18,000 and 20,000 victims are trafficked into the United States every year. The number is difficult to pinpoint, however, and is likely only a small percentage of all cases, as most cases go unreported.


Within the U.S., the National Human Trafficking Resource Center (NHTRC) reported 48,326 contacts in 2019, of which 11,500 were identified as human trafficking cases. Texas received 2,720 contacts in 2019 with 1,080 reported trafficking cases. Further, the Polaris Project experienced a 25% increase from 2018 to 2019 in case identification. With California being the first with 1,507 cases, Texas represented the second-highest human trafficking region for cases in 2019 with 1,080 cases. The NHTRC affirms that it is not a comprehensive reflection of the overall need. Misclassification of trafficking as another crime and a need for increased education and identification all contribute to lower numbers of trafficking victims than we know to be true.


There is no single profile for trafficking victims; trafficking occurs to adults and minors in rural, suburban, or urban communities across the country. Victims of human trafficking have diverse socio-economic backgrounds, varied levels of education, and may be documented or undocumented. Traffickers target victims using tailored methods of recruitment and control they find to be effective in compelling that individual into forced labor or commercial sex.

Who is vulnerable to human trafficking?

Human trafficking can happen to anyone, but some people are more vulnerable than others. Significant risk factors include recent migration or relocation, substance use, mental health concerns, involvement with the child welfare system, and being a runaway or homeless youth. Often, traffickers identify and leverage their victims’ vulnerabilities in order to create dependency.


If survivors are foreign-born, are they eligible for a visa to stay in the US?

Victims of severe forms of human trafficking are provided relief under U.S. immigration law by the Victims of Trafficking in Persons (T) nonimmigrant visa. T nonimmigrant status is a temporary immigration benefit that enables certain victims of a severe form of human trafficking to remain in the United States for up to 4 years if they have assisted law enforcement in an investigation or prosecution of human trafficking. T nonimmigrant status is also available for certain qualifying family members of trafficking victims. T nonimmigrants are eligible for employment authorization and certain federal and state benefits and services. T nonimmigrants who qualify may also be able to adjust their status and become lawful permanent residents (obtain a Green Card).

Congress created this status (commonly referred to as a T visa) in October 2000 as part of the Victims of Trafficking and Violence Protection Act. Human trafficking, also known as trafficking in persons, is a form of modern-day slavery in which traffickers use force, fraud, or coercion to compel individuals to provide labor or services, including commercial sex. Traffickers often take advantage of vulnerable individuals, including those lacking lawful immigration status. T visas offer protection to victims and strengthen the ability of law enforcement agencies to investigate and prosecute human trafficking.


How does RST fight human trafficking?

RST’s Survivors of Trafficking Empowerment Program (STEP) is designed to help survivors of trafficking throughout their transition to stable, independent lives. Serving in 6 cities across Texas, RST serves all survivors of human trafficking, including labor and sex trafficking, adults and minors, foreign born, and domestic born. RST serves survivors regardless of race, color, national or ethnic origin, age, religion, disability, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity, or veteran status.

When a survivor is referred to or seeks to work with STEP/806 ACTS, RST’s team will assess their basic needs. Once immediate safety and basic needs have been addressed, the STEP/806 ACTS team works with survivors through a holistic approach to support their journey through recovery to independent, stable lives.

The following services are provided, among others:

  • Human trafficking screenings
  • Crisis management and safety support
  • Basic needs assistance
  • Employment assistance
  • Counseling services
  • Emotional support
  • Applications for public benefits
  • Community outreach and trainings

None of RST’s work would be possible without community partnerships – they are vital to our work and include law enforcement, legal aid providers, medical providers, schools, and others. RST is a standing steering committee member for the Central Texas Coalition Against Human Trafficking and an active participant in coalitions and working groups across Texas that are committed to combatting trafficking.


Does RST partner with law enforcement to fight human trafficking?

Refugee Services of Texas partners closely with law enforcement to combat trafficking. RST collaborates with law enforcement on individual cases and, because of our statewide presence, we are not limited if victims move to another city. This continued engagement with victims aids law enforcement, and RST can quickly become the one constant in a victim’s life. STEP also partners heavily in Texas to support law enforcement operations, assist criminal investigators in a trauma-informed and victim-centered response, and assist victims as they are identified.


What happens to victims after they are recovered or identified?

When a survivor is referred to RST or contacts RST directly, the STEP team will initially assess immediate safety and basic needs. This initial phase of triaging, trafficking screening, addressing safety and basic needs, and providing trauma-informed, culturally sensitive support is critical to building trust with survivors that then allows the team to work through a holistic approach that supports survivors’ journeys through recovery to independent, stable lives.

What are the long-term effects of human trafficking?

Victims of trafficking are generally exposed to traumatic experience as a result of their inability to predict and control events during the trafficking process. Trauma occurs when the victims’ psychological and biological coping mechanism is unable to cope with the external threat.

The effects of trauma on the health of victims can include physical and mental health problems, fatigue and weight loss, neurological symptoms and gastrointestinal problems, tiredness, depression, anxiety, and hostility. Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) occurs more in victims of trafficking than other victims because of their exposure to one or more traumatic events over a long period of time.


What should I do if I think someone is being trafficked?

If you believe you may have information about a trafficking situation:

Call the National Human Trafficking Hotline toll-free hotline at 1-888-373-7888. Anti-Trafficking Hotline Advocates are available 24/7 to take reports of potential human trafficking.

Text the National Human Trafficking Hotline at 233733. Message and data rates may apply.

Chat on the National Human Trafficking Hotline via

Submit a tip online through the anonymous online reporting form below. However, please note that if the situation is urgent or occurred within the last 24 hours, we would encourage you to call, text, or chat.


Are all survivors foreign-born?

Human trafficking is a global crisis that requires a global response. With nearly 25 million people being trafficked at any given time, victims are often trafficked across borders – including documented and undocumented victims identified in the United States. In the U.S., both domestic and foreign nationals have been victims of human trafficking. Victims originate from almost every region of the world, though in the U.S., the top three countries of origin of identified trafficking victims in FY2019 were the United States, Mexico, and Honduras.


How can I fight human trafficking?

Learn the indicators of human trafficking so you can help identify a potential trafficking victim. Human trafficking awareness training is available for individuals, businesses, first responders, law enforcement, educators, and federal employees, among others.

If you are in the United States and believe someone may be a victim of human trafficking, report your suspicions to law enforcement by calling 911 or the 24-hour National Human Trafficking Resource Center line at 1-888-373-7888. Trafficking victims, including undocumented individuals, are eligible for services and immigration assistance.

Be a conscientious and informed consumer. Discover your slavery footprint, ask who picked your tomatoes or made your clothes, or check out the Department of Labor’s List of Goods Produced by Child Labor or Forced Labor. Encourage companies to take steps to investigate and prevent human trafficking in their supply chains and publish the information for consumer awareness.

Volunteer and support anti-trafficking efforts in your community.

Meet with and/or write to your local, state, and federal government representatives to let them know you care about combating human trafficking, and ask what they are doing to address it.

Work with a local community organization to help stop trafficking by supporting a victim service provider or spreading awareness of human trafficking.

Businesses: Provide jobs, internships, skills training, and other opportunities to trafficking survivors.

Students: Take action on your campus. Join or establish a university club to raise awareness about human trafficking and initiate action throughout your local community. Consider doing one of your research papers on a topic concerning human trafficking. Request that human trafficking be included in university curricula.


How can my community eradicate trafficking?

Because human trafficking can range from forced prostitution to slave labor, it’s necessary for anyone who wants to eradicate human trafficking to become aware of all the ways our society inadvertently contributes to the phenomenon, and learn to ask questions, verify ethical supply chains for goods, and be ready to report suspected trafficking.

Additionally, you can make the community and business leaders where you live aware of your concerns, and become a source of information and awareness to your friends, family, coworkers, and the members of the organizations you’re a part of.

You may even consider joining together with others who share your concern and forming a community-based organization to address these issues with the specialized skills your members bring to the table, such as attorneys or health care workers who can offer assistance to survivors.


How can I get involved in helping survivors?

You can help survivors of human trafficking by volunteering with a local organization centered on this work. Survivors tend to need help with finding work, a place to live, and making the transition to self-sufficiency. Volunteers work closely with an organization’s trained staff as the needs of human trafficking survivors can require a high level of skill and expertise.


Asylum and Asylum Seekers

Who is an asylum seeker?

An asylum seeker is someone whose request for sanctuary has yet to be processed. An asylum seeker is someone who says he or she is a refugee and seeks international protection from persecution or serious harm in their home country. Every refugee is initially an asylum seeker, but not every asylum seeker will ultimately be recognized as a refugee.


What is the difference between a refugee, an asylee, an asylum seeker, and someone crossing the border?

An “asylum seeker” is anyone who has fled persecution in his/her home country and is seeking safe haven in a different country, but has not yet received any legal recognition or status. A “refugee” is a person who has been recognized in the new country as having fled due to persecution, and has been afforded some sort of legal protection, either by the new country’s government, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), or both. In the United States, a “refugee” is someone who has been provided with legal status by the U.S. government overseas, and then brought to this country to reside permanently. An “asylee” is someone who came to the U.S. without official refugee status, (an “asylum seeker”) who has since been granted legal status by the U.S. government.


How does one qualify to be an asylum seeker?

Asylum has two basic requirements. First, asylum applicants must establish that they fear persecution in their home country. Second, applicants must prove that they would be persecuted on account of at least one of five protected grounds: race, religion, nationality, political opinion, or particular social group.


Who are the people we hear about coming to the U.S. from the southern border?

Thousands of migrants have arrived at the US-Mexico border after travelling more than 4,000km (2,500 miles) from Central America. Interviews with immigration experts and migrants newly arrived in McAllen, Texas, a border town, suggest a complex dynamic that includes deepening political and economic crises in some Central American countries. More than 7,000 Central American migrants have arrived at the US-Mexico border after crossing Mexico and parts of Central America, according to official figures released by the Mexican Interior Ministry. They are staying in temporary shelters in the border cities of Tijuana and Mexicali.

“You have got a worsening economic and political situation in Guatemala and Honduras, smugglers who have diversified their services and become more aggressive in the face of competition from the caravans, and a greater awareness of the ways that families can navigate the system in the United States,” said Andrew Selee, president of the Migration Policy Institute in Washington, DC.


Who are the children being separated from their parents? Does this still occur?

Under the El Paso program, begun in mid-2017, adults who crossed the border without permission – a misdemeanor for a first-time offender – were detained and criminally charged. No exceptions were made for parents arriving with young children. The children were taken from them, and parents were unable to track or reunite with their children because the government failed to create a system to facilitate reunification. By late 2017, the government was separating families along the length of the U.S.-Mexico border, including families arriving through official ports of entry. This is happening to this day.


How does one apply for asylum in the US?

There are two primary ways in which a person may apply for asylum in the United States: the affirmative process and the defensive process.

Affirmative Asylum: A person who is not in removal proceedings may affirmatively apply for asylum through U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), a division of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS). If the USCIS asylum officer does not grant the asylum application and the applicant does not have a lawful immigration status, he or she is referred to the immigration court for removal proceedings, where he or she may renew the request for asylum through the defensive process and appear before an immigration judge.

Defensive Asylum: A person who is in removal proceedings may apply for asylum defensively by filing the application with an immigration judge at the Executive Office for Immigration Review (EOIR) in the Department of Justice. In other words, asylum is applied for as a defense against removal from the U.S. Unlike the criminal court system, EOIR does not provide appointed counsel for individuals in immigration court, even if they are unable to retain an attorney on their own.


How long are asylum seekers allowed to stay in the United States?

An individual generally must apply for asylum within one year of their most recent arrival in the United States.


What if asylum seekers are not granted asylum?

If the USCIS asylum officer does not grant the asylum application and the applicant does not have a lawful immigration status, he or she is referred to the immigration court for removal proceedings, where he or she may renew the request for asylum through the defensive process and appear before an immigration judge.


Are asylum seekers allowed to work?

Asylum applicants don’t qualify for a work permit until their case is won or a certain number of days have passed with no decision.


Are asylum seekers and people crossing the border counted as part of the total number of refugees allowed to be resettled each year through the Presidential Determination?

USRAP program handles only refugee follow-to-join petitions, which are counted within the annual refugee ceiling. Asylum follow-to-join petitions are processed by USCIS and are not counted in the annual admission ceilings.


Are Cuban-Haitian entrants a special class of asylum seeker?

The Cuban-Haitian Entrant Program (CHEP) was established to provide eligible Cubans and Haitians with certain benefits and services. Cubans or Haitians who apply for asylum in the United States are considered Cuban/Haitian entrants while their applications for asylum are pending and therefore are eligible for refugee services.


Are unaccompanied minors eligible for asylum?

You may apply for asylum with USCIS as an unaccompanied minor, even if you are in immigration court proceedings, if you: are under 18 years old; have no lawful immigration status in the United States; and have no parent or legal guardian in the United States available to provide care and physical custody.


How does RST serve asylum seekers and asylees?

RST welcomes anyone who has been granted asylum and helps provide support services through the resettlement period and beyond. RST also welcomes and serves asylum seekers in our Austin and Houston offices through our Asylum Seeker Assistance Program (ASAP) to give help through referrals for needed social and community services, and to comply with ongoing legal case matters.


Do people travel in caravans when trying to get into the U.S. at the southern border?

In recent years, migrants from South-Central America have formed so-called caravans of as many as 12,000 people as they flee gang violence and political instability in their home country. Their destination was the U.S. where they believed they could find a chance to start life anew in the security of a free country.


Are asylum seekers screened like refugees before entering?

As a specific kind of refugee, asylum seekers undergo a series of background checks, screenings, and interviews before being admitted into the U.S.

The agencies that conduct this investigation include the U.S. State Department and the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) agency, which is part of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS). Additionally, the investigation may go through ongoing vetting by a variety of intelligence agencies such as the FBI and CIA.


Asylum seekers are able to apply for asylum in the U.S. through one of two processes. The Affirmative Asylum process applies to people who are not currently going through the process of being removed from the U.S. and allows the seeker to apply to the USCIS for entry to the U.S.

The Defensive Asylum process is for asylum seekers who’ve been denied immigration status by immigration courts and are in the proceedings of being removed from the country.

In either process, U.S. immigration courts require the asylum seeker to be physically present in the U.S. to apply for asylum, which explains the strong motivation for asylum seekers to enter the country any way they can.

Do asylum seekers have all the rights of a citizen?

No, asylum seekers have very few rights extended to them by the U.S. First, because their cases are heard through immigration courts and not criminal courts, asylum seekers are not appointed counsel and therefore must represent themselves in legal proceedings and navigate U.S. immigration law on their own, even if they are children.

Second, the U.S. government has taken up the process of detaining asylum seekers while they go through the asylum process, which may take years. Detention can create additional challenges for asylum seekers, and it can also lead to physical and mental health issues, especially in children.

If an asylum seeker is granted approval to stay in the U.S., he or she becomes an asylee and is granted the right to stay in the country, work, apply for a Social Security Card, and petition the government to bring family members to the U.S.

After one year, an asylee may apply for permanent residence, and four years after receiving permanent resident status, he or she may apply to become a citizen.


Do asylum seekers pay taxes?

Asylees are required by law to report their income to the Internal Revenue Service and pay taxes.


Why are children and youth traveling on their own to the U.S.?

Children who travel to the U.S. border without an adult are considered unaccompanied minors. Often, many children, sometimes even toddlers, leave their country to try to make it to the U.S. because they are fleeing poverty, abuse or gang violence, or they’re trying to reunite with family members who entered the country. In some cases, parents have sent their children to the U.S. in hopes of their children being given asylum status.


How does RST serve unaccompanied children?

As part of a broader network of service providers, RST Houston provides Home Study and Post Release Services for unaccompanied children who are attempting to or have been discharged from a children’s immigration shelter. These children are often placed in homes with immediate or extended family or long-time family friends.

Post Release Services aids the child and family with school enrollment, access to community programs, legal resources, and helps the family solve unique problems like mental health concerns or special education needs.

Children leaving immigration shelters who are not certified victims of human trafficking (as determined by the Administration for Children and Families) do not qualify for any federal or state funded benefits.

Additionally, RST hosts a Youth Mentoring Program that is focused on meeting the needs of youth ages 15-24 as they adapt to life in a new country. This includes gaining deeper insight into American culture, exploring and engaging with their new community, and achieving self-sufficiency. The mentoring program also helps with educational support, career guidance, cultural learning, language practice, and friendship.


Questions about Additional RST Programs and Services

Can you recommend other websites where I can learn more about refugees and other immigration-related issues?

Immigration Forum

Cornell University

Migration Policy Institute

National Immigrant Justice Center

Columbia University Global Centers

Columbia University Public Health

Center for Migration Studies

United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees

IOM – UN Migration Agency

Refugee Council USA

Lutheran Immigration Refugee Services




Amnesty International

Is Refugee Services of Texas run by the government?

No, Refugee Services of Texas is a nonprofit social service agency.

Does RST partner with other organizations?

RST is an affiliate of Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service (LIRS), Church World Service (CWS), and Episcopal Migration Ministries (EMM).

Does RST serve only refugees?

Refugee Services of Texas serves refugees, asylees, individuals with Special Immigrant Visas, Cuban-Haitian entrants, Central American minors, survivors of human trafficking, and other vulnerable populations. In addition, RST works to facilitate partnerships with host communities to build a welcoming environment.

How can I get involved with RST as a volunteer or donor?

Learn about our many volunteer opportunities at:

You may donate online at:

What is/are the funding source(s) for RST?

RST is primarily federally-funded, but has also received state funding to expand its anti-human trafficking program, STEP. RST has fostered excellent partnerships with local corporations, foundations, and individual donors in RST’s major locations to further diversify its funding.

Does RST host any community programs?

In addition to the services that RST provides its clients, the organization hosts a variety of community programs, including welcoming teams for refugee communities and partnerships with those who wish to become refugee advocates in their communities.

Will RST send a representative to my organization to speak about refugees or trafficking if we want to learn more?

RST can help you share your advocacy for refugees with your family, friends, and colleagues through its Salaam Suppers program and Empowerment dinners. Salaam Suppers are gatherings where participants enjoy a meal and a presentation about the experiences and needs of refugees. Empowerment dinners are similar but focus on the topic of human trafficking. Because of COVID-19, these events can also be conducted wholly online.

What are RST’s biggest needs?

RST is always in need of financial assistance, donations, and volunteers.

How can my company get involved with RST?

RST provides opportunities for individuals and groups from local companies to volunteer with RST’s clients, both directly and indirectly. Many supporters assist by starting workplace campaigns or donation drives and asking their company to match employees’ donations. Other workplace options include hosting an RST representative for a brown-bag lunch at your place of work or connecting RST to any grant opportunities that may be available.

How can my community be a welcoming place for immigrants?

Your community can become a welcoming place for immigrants by organizing a Welcome Team. Welcome Teams are businesses or community organizations that pair with a refugee family and help them in the initial stages of resettlement. Building a Welcome Team is an enriching experience that benefits recently arrived refugees as well as those who sponsor them.

A Welcome Team engages in and improves the quality of a refugee’s resettlement by providing extra assistance, time, advice, and material goods vital to fulfilling the needs of newly arrived refugees. Refugees learn English, integrate into their local community, and achieve success at higher rates when they have the support of a Welcome Team.