Skip to main content


The Jeanne and Joseph Sullivan Project for Protection of Asylum Seekers provides free legal representation to asylum seekers fleeing persecution in their homelands.


You may be eligible for asylum if you cannot return to your home country because

1. you have been persecuted in the past or fear persecution in the future

2. by the government or a group that the government cannot or will not control

3. because of your race, religion, nationality, membership in a particular social group, or political opinion

Below are examples of the asylum claims of some of NIJC’s clients:

- M. worked for an organization that helped children in Uganda. His government imprisoned and beat him because it believed that his organization supported a rebel group.

- D. is afraid to return to her home country because she fears her father will force her into a marriage and will beat her if she does not agree to the marriage.

- G. fled to the United States after members of another clan repeatedly attacked and beat G. and his family because they belonged to a minority clan.

- H. fled her home country because her husband frequently beat her and the police would not protect her from his abuse.

To be eligible for asylum, you must file your asylum application within one year of your last entry into the United States. There are limited exceptions to the one-year deadline for individuals who do not file for asylum within one year of their entry. Individuals who file for asylum one year or more after their last entry into the United States risk being placed into immigration court removal proceedings and ordered removed.


NIJC strongly recommends that you file for asylum with the assistance of a lawyer.

If you are not in immigration court removal proceedings, you can apply for asylum by filing an application with U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS).

After filing your application, the Asylum Office will interview you to determine if you are eligible for asylum.

It usually takes one to two months to receive a decision from the Asylum Office after you file your application with USCIS. If the Asylum Office approves your application, then you have obtained asylum status and are an asylee.

If the Asylum Office does not approve your application, the Office will refer your case to the immigration court where you will have an opportunity to present your case before an immigration judge.

If you are in immigration court removal proceedings, you can apply for asylum by filing an application with the immigration judge.

You will then attend a merits hearing where you will testify about your fear of returning home and the judge and an attorney from the Department of Homeland Security will question you. It can take six months to two years or more to have a merits hearing on your asylum case after being placed into removal proceedings.

If the immigration judge approves your application and the Department of Homeland Security does not appeal, then you have obtained asylum status and are an asylee. If the immigration judge denies your application, then you can file an appeal with the Board of Immigration Appeals.


To obtain a lawyer through NIJC’s Asylum Project, you must go through NIJC’s asylum intake process: Call the Asylum Project during the designated asylum hotline hours. After speaking with you on the phone, a staff member will conduct an in-person interview with you to determine whether seeking asylum through NIJC is a viable option for your situation. After the in-person interview, NIJC may contact you by phone with additional follow-up questions. If NIJC is able to assist you, the Asylum Project will let you know that we have accepted your case for representation. The Asylum Project will send a retainer agreement for you to sign agreeing that you want NIJC to represent you in your asylum case. The Asylum Project will then find free legal representation to help you prepare your asylum application and to represent you before the Asylum Office or the Chicago Immigration Court. Once NIJC accepts your case for representation, it may take several months to find you free legal representation. Once we obtain free representation, we will contact you directly. Please note that if you contact NIJC for legal representation right before your one-year filing deadline for asylum or right before a court hearing, NIJC may not be able to make a decision regarding your case before the before the filing deadline or hearing date.


Asylum applicants who live within the jurisdiction of the Chicago Immigration Court (Illinois, Wisconsin, and Indiana) are eligible for free legal representation through NIJC’s Asylum Project. Please note, however, that depending on current resources, NIJC may not always be able to serve asylum applicants who live significantly far from the Chicago metropolitan area. In addition, if you obtain representation through NIJC’s Asylum Project, you will need to make frequent visits to Chicago. NIJC does not have the means to assist with transportation costs. Please be aware that if you move outside of NIJC’s geographic service area at any time during the asylum process, NIJC and its pro bono attorneys will no longer be able to represent you and will have to withdraw from your case.


It is very difficult for asylum applicants to obtain employment authorization. Many asylum applicants are not able to obtain employment authorization during the entire time their asylum case is pending. If NIJC’s Asylum Project accepts your case for representation, you can discuss your eligibility for employment authorization with your lawyer.