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What’s the difference between asylum seekers, illegal entry?

(Source: File Photo)

As immigration continues to be at the center of our country, many are left wondering what exactly is the difference between asylum seekers vs. illegal entry.

With close to 7,000 Central Americans headed North to seek asylum, CBS 4 Valley decided to add perspective on this issue explaining the difference.

One of the most important things asylum seekers need to know, is in order to qualify for asylum, they must surrender at a port of entry such as an international bridge.

"Asylum is when someone goes to the port of entry at the United States and asks a CBP officer, DHS officer, that they want to enter the country because they fear of being tortured in their country of origin," said Immigration Attorney Alex Martinez, who deals with asylum cases daily.

But then there are undocumented immigrants who go through the river, terrain or desert to cross illegally into the country.

"Any person that crosses into the United States that does not use a port of entry, so in other words an area not designated as a port of entry, has entered the country illegally," said U.S. Border Patrol Agent Marcelino Medina.

But even if a person crosses illegally and is caught by Border Patrol, laws still allow them to seek asylum.

Immigrants have one year to apply for asylum after illegal entry in most cases.

"Many of them go through the interview process to verify if they have viable claims of asylum," said Martinez.

While there are different ways to seek asylum, Martinez says the most common is the Geneva Convention Policy which allows refuge for those in fear of their life.

"You simply keep a work permit, you stay in this country, you are protected under the Geneva Convention against torture and that's the most popular people are seeing asylum," said Martinez.

Government reports show over the last 10 years, there's been a 1,700% increase in asylum claims and it's growing.

Since 2013, more than half a million immigrants from Central America have been granted asylum and remain in the United States today.

Something Martinez says is a matter of life and death.

"We're talking about tragic stories. People who have murdered, dismembered, extremely abused."

As of Wednesday, Mexican Federal Police have been removing people from the caravan of Central Americans. However, several thousand of them remain and the group has stopped traveling for the night.

The caravan will continue their journey Thursday morning.

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