Merriam-Webster’s most-searched word right now is “asylum,” and here’s what it really means in the U.S.

Between April and May of 2018, nearly 2,000 children were separated from their parents and placed in border detention centers upon arrival to the United States. Then, in early June, Attorney General Jeff Sessions overturned a decades-old policy and ruled that immigrants seeking asylum for protection against gang violence and domestic abuse would no longer qualify for safe passage into the country.

These events have understandably led to a national dialogue about what, exactly, asylum means — and specifically what it means in relation to U.S. immigration (in fact, the word “asylum” is currently’s most searched-for word). And you, too, might understandably be confused about what asylum really means.

Let’s start with the basics.

Originally coming from the Greek word asylos meaning “inviolable,” the word “asylum” has evolved to reference those who seek relief from persecution (as opposed to avoiding prosecution, aka running from the law). In other words, the majority of people seeking asylum in the United States are trying to escape violence, crime, and abuse in their home countries. They are victims, not criminals.

“Why don’t they just come over legally and then seek asylum?” you might be asking.

Unfortunately, the system doesn’t make that easy. Attorney General Sessions and the U.S. government have instructed those seeking asylum to check in at specific ports of entry in order to be processed. However, these ports aren’t actually accepting asylum seekers and turn away anyone who attempts to enter.

This also means that if these asylum-seekers (again, people who are escaping violence and abuse) then try to enter the country at other, non-authorized ports and are caught by authorities, they’re deemed “illegal” (which is a crime), put in detention camps, separated from their children, and are no longer able to even apply for asylum.

In essence, those seeking asylum are looking for safety and a little humanity, and that’s currently the last thing they’re finding at our border. If you feel strongly about protecting asylum-seekers attempting to enter the U.S., as well as ending the inhumane child separation policy currently in place, call your representatives today.

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