Asylum and Refugee Protection: Understanding the Process and Resources in California

Asylum and Refugee Protection in California

Asylum and refugee protection offer safety and opportunities for individuals who have fled persecution or fear of persecution in their home country. California, with its diverse population and welcoming communities, has become home to many asylum seekers and refugees. Martin Fontes, founder of Fontes Law Group and an experienced immigration attorney with offices in Riverside and Santa Ana, has represented numerous clients seeking asylum or refugee protection. This blog post will outline the differences between asylum and refugee status, the application process, and resources available for asylum seekers and refugees in California.

Asylum vs. Refugee Status

Although asylum and refugee status are often discussed interchangeably, they have distinct legal definitions and processes:

  1. Asylum: Asylum is a form of protection granted to individuals who are physically present in the U.S. or at a port of entry, regardless of their immigration status. To qualify for asylum, applicants must demonstrate a well-founded fear of persecution in their home country based on race, religion, nationality, political opinion, or membership in a particular social group (1).
  2. Refugee Status: Refugee status is granted to individuals who are outside the U.S. and meet the same persecution criteria as asylum seekers. However, refugees must be referred for resettlement in the U.S. through the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) or another designated organization (2).

The Asylum Application Process

The asylum application process in the U.S. involves several steps:

  1. Filing the Application: Asylum seekers must file Form I-589, Application for Asylum and Withholding of Removal, within one year of their last arrival in the U.S., barring certain exceptions (3). The application should include detailed information about the applicant’s fear of persecution and any supporting evidence.
  2. Interview: Applicants are scheduled for an interview with an asylum officer at a USCIS asylum office. California has two asylum offices located in San Francisco and Los Angeles (4). During the interview, the asylum officer will ask questions about the applicant’s claim and assess their credibility.
  3. Decision: The asylum officer will issue a decision on the application, which can be granted, referred to an immigration judge, or denied. Applicants who are referred to an immigration judge have the opportunity to present their case in immigration court.
  4. Appeal: If the applicant’s asylum claim is denied by the immigration judge, they may appeal the decision to the Board of Immigration Appeals (BIA).

The Refugee Resettlement Process

The refugee resettlement process involves several stages:

  1. Referral: Refugees must be referred to the U.S. Refugee Admissions Program (USRAP) by UNHCR or another designated organization (5).
  2. Eligibility and Security Screening: Refugees undergo a series of interviews, background checks, and biometric screenings to determine their eligibility for resettlement in the U.S. and ensure they pose no security risk.
  3. Resettlement: Once approved, refugees are assigned to a resettlement agency in the U.S., which will assist them in finding housing, employment, and accessing social services.

Resources for Asylum Seekers and Refugees in California

California provides various resources and support for asylum seekers and refugees, including:

  1. Legal Assistance: Non-profit organizations and legal service providers, such as the Immigrant Legal Resource Center (ILRC) and the California Asylum Representation Clinic (CARC), offer free or low-cost legal assistance to asylum seekers in California (6, 7).
  2. Health Services: California’s Medi-Cal program provides healthcare coverage for eligible asylum seekers and refugees, ensuring access to essential medical services (8).
  3. Education: Asylum seekers and refugees have access to California’s public education system, including K-12 schools and adult education programs. In addition, California has established the California DREAM Act, which allows eligible undocumented students and certain nonresident students, including asylum seekers and refugees, to apply for state-funded financial aid for college (9).
  4. Employment: The California Employment Development Department (EDD) provides workforce services, such as job search assistance, training, and unemployment benefits for eligible asylum seekers and refugees (10).
  5. Social Services: California’s Department of Social Services (CDSS) offers several programs designed to support refugees and asylum seekers, including cash assistance, employment services, and English language training (11).

Asylum and refugee protection are essential pathways for individuals fleeing persecution and seeking safety in the United States.

Understanding the differences between these two forms of protection, the application and resettlement processes, and the resources available in California can help asylum seekers and refugees successfully navigate their journey to a new life. Experienced immigration attorneys like Martin Fontes of Fontes Law Group can provide invaluable guidance and support throughout this process.


  1. U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS). (n.d.). Asylum. Retrieved from
  2. U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS). (n.d.). Refugee. Retrieved from
  3. U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS). (n.d.). Form I-589, Application for Asylum and for Withholding of Removal. Retrieved from
  4. U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS). (n.d.). Asylum Office Locator. Retrieved from
  5. U.S. Department of State. (n.d.). U.S. Refugee Admissions Program. Retrieved from
  6. Immigrant Legal Resource Center (ILRC). (n.d.). Retrieved from
  7. California Asylum Representation Clinic (CARC). (n.d.). Retrieved from
  8. California Department of Health Care Services (DHCS). (n.d.). Medi-Cal for Refugees. Retrieved from
  9. California Student Aid Commission (CSAC). (n.d.). California DREAM Act. Retrieved from
  10. California Employment Development Department (EDD). (n.d.). Retrieved from
  11. California Department of Social Services (CDSS). (n.d.). Refugee Programs. Retrieved from