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Columbia Law Review





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This Essay is the first scholarly intervention, from any discipline, to examine the number and nature of asylum claims made by U.S. citizens, and to explore the broader implications of this phenomenon. While the United States continues to be a preeminent destination for persons seeking humanitarian protection, U.S. citizens have fled the country in significant numbers, filing approximately 14,000 asylum claims since 2000. By formally seeking refuge elsewhere, these applicants have calculated that the risks of remaining in the United States outweigh the bundle of rights that accompany U.S. citizenship. Given the United States’ recent flirtation with authoritarianism, and the widening fissures in the nation’s social fabric, a closer study of asylum seeking is warranted—and indeed, prudent—should future political conditions generate a larger exodus of U.S. citizens.

This Essay opens with a quantitative overview of claims, drawing on data from the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees and from countries that are the U.S. citizen asylum seekers’ destinations. Following that statistical summary, this Essay presents a typology of claims that U.S. citizens have lodged, extracting from public sources the applicants’ motivations for seeking asylum and how foreign government authorities have received those claims. Among the classes of U.S. citizens who have sought protection overseas are war resisters, political dissidents, whistleblowers, fugitives, members of minority groups, domestic violence survivors, and the U.S. citizen children of noncitizen parents. This Essay concludes by exploring the relevance of this trend to scholarly debates about asylum adjudication, international relations, forced migration, and citizenship.



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