Reading this recent Reuters article, from the headline to the end, I’m not sure what offends me most. Is it the Trump Administration’s concerted effort to scare people away from seeking safety in the U.S.? That’s pretty disgusting. Is it the fact that those threats only work if people believe our government would deprive them of the due process promised by our country’s founding principles? Maybe. But, I think what really gets me is the repeated use of the term “illegal” when it comes to families fleeing to the U.S. and seeking refuge under our asylum laws.

It is not illegal to seek asylum.

Imagine for a moment that you are a mother. You have been extorted by gangs for “protection money” and have seen family members who refused to pay be cut down. Your preteen daughter has been approached by gang members demanding that she be a “girlfriend,”  which means she will be theirs to rape and abuse. Your young son has been threatened and told that he soon will be one of them. The police do not help you when you report the extortion and threats you and your children have received. You are at your wits’ end. Your life and the lives of your children are at stake.

What would you do?

You have heard there is a place where they offer safety to those fleeing for their lives. Unlike in your home country, this place has laws that require the police help you when you ask for help. They have laws that would allow your children to study and grow up in peace. There, the laws would offer protection to you and your children from gangs. That place holds hope, but it is thousands of miles away. You look at your children. You have a choice: stay and live with the certainty that you or your children will be victims of horrifying gang violence, or embark on a long and dangerous journey with the hope of safety.  You really have no choice. You head towards hope. You flee toward America.

You’ve heard they are turning away people who are seeking protection at points of entry  (that’s illegal for the government to do by the way, but it is happening). You’ve heard they might separate you from your children and keep you in detention (that’s reprehensible). But you know they have laws to protect you. You head towards hope.  The risk of staying and doing nothing may cost you your life or the lives of your children.

You arrive at the southern U.S. border. You ask the border officer for help, you say you are afraid. Or, you cross the border and turn yourself in to officials. The moment you request protection, you are an asylum seeker. America’s laws require that you be granted an interview with an asylum officer, in which you will need to show a “credible fear” that the persecution you claim is real. You will need to go through immigration court proceedings, and win your case by bringing forward all the evidence you can compile to show your situation merits asylum.

It is not illegal to seek asylum.

This mother is an asylum seeker. She is not an illegal migrant. Her children are not illegal immigrants. One cannot seek asylum outside America’s borders. While people seek asylum, they are NOT illegal immigrants. Shame on Reuters and every other outlet that furthers that falsehood.

Written by Annaluisa Padilla, AILA President-Elect