Asylum is a very complex issue in an already complex area of law. The simplest way to explain asylum is that it grants protections to people who are fleeing certain forms of persecution. They are accepted into the United States and can have a path to citizenship under certain circumstances.
However, it is rarely as straightforward as we have laid it out above. For example, it has been a constant struggle for those who are faced with domestic violence in their home country to gain asylum in the U.S. Thankfully, that is changing -- but probably not fast enough.
There are also plenty of stories of people who are fleeing legitimate danger in their home country, only to have their plea for asylum fall on deaf ears, and then these people are more or less trapped in limbo -- having to stay in detention centers while they are worked through the system.
As we mentioned above, certain forms of persecution can make a person eligible for asylum. Political groups, religious beliefs, and association with certain groups can lead to someone fleeing a country and being accepted by the U.S. under the protections of asylum.
Even if you are eligible though, the road is not as clear as many would like it to be. There are some major procedural hurdles that need to be cleared -- and if you want to progress your legal status after obtaining asylum, it can be a tricky road. No one should go into this process without legal help.
Source: Reason, "VID: No Asylum: Immigrants Locked Up in U.S. after Fleeing Violence (UPDATED)," Justin Monticello and Zach Weissmueller, May 10, 2015