What’s ahead for asylum seekers in the U.S.

How a group of more than 20,000 asylum seekers in the U.S. are reshaping the system



Social entrepreneur and lawyer Swapna Reddy co-founded Asylum Seeker Advocacy Project (ASAP) in 2015. Back then, the asylum journey was deeply flawed and costly, Swapna recalls — but the past four years have pushed it to a near-breaking point.

Now, as we look to 2021 and beyond, what can be repaired? Redesigned? What’s ahead for asylum seekers in the U.S.? And how will global challenges — such as extreme climate events — invite and require new mindsets and a new kind of forecasting?

Ashoka’s Manmeet Mehta spoke with Swapna, an Ashoka Fellow, as part of Welcome Change, a new series with leading social entrepreneurs on what works, what’s next, and why they’re hopeful. Here are a few highlights:

Who are asylum seekers?

Right now, most asylum seekers in the U.S. are fleeing war and violence. Yet new drivers of displacement and migration are appearing, Swapna says. This makes the distinction between “sending” and “receiving” countries a false one. She calls us to reshape the system mindfully and design for a future where any of us might need asylum. More here:

The spark that started ASAP

While a law student in 2015, Swapna volunteered at what was then the largest immigrant detention center in the country, in Dilley, Texas, which was built to hold 2,400 women and children. What she saw and the people she met led her to start ASAP along with three classmates. She shares more:

Meeting explosive demand

Today, ASAP is a membership organization of asylum seekers — individuals and families fleeing violence— who are innovating to fix the asylum process as and after they go through it. In the past two months, ASAP’s membership has risen fourfold, to 20,000. Swapna explains why:

A new narrative of strength and resilience

We need an updated narrative that reflects the actual experiences and contributions of asylum seekers: stories that show resiliency, problem-solving, mutuality, and optimism in the face of extremely difficult life circumstances. Swapna shares more:

Note to self: engage when the news is quiet

Swapna shares practical advice and encouragement for all of us: stay engaged with issues even, or especially, when they are not in the news. It’s often in those times that we need to build, or rebuild.

An extra explainer: refugee vs. asylum seeker

We wondered…. you might, too! Swapna breaks it down for us:

Watch the full conversation here to learn more about the experiences of asylum seekers in the U.S., ASAP’s policy priorities, plus more about Swapna’s changemaker journey. On Twitter, follow along: @asylumadvocacy

Welcome Change is a web series, powered by Ashoka, where we hear from leading social entrepreneurs about what works, what’s next, and why they’re hopeful. See other conversations in the series and explore our calendar of upcoming events, including our 2021 series. Subscribe here for weekly updates and new opportunities.




We bring together social entrepreneurs, educators, businesses, parents & youth to support a world in which everyone is equipped & empowered to be a changemaker.