You literally can’t picture yourself in your native country. You barely speak the language, don’t have any close relatives left behind and worry about that country’s political and social problems, including rampant criminal activity. You’re in the U.S. and you want to stay here — but the climate around immigration is making it harder and harder to catch a break. You’re worried that you could be deported any day.

Should you apply for asylum? Maybe someone mentioned it to you as a possibility after reading a news story about someone else who won the right to stay in this country because they feared being tortured or killed if forced to return to their homeland.

Applying for asylum is an option for some people — but only under limited circumstances. If you’ve been in this country over a year, you’re generally barred obtaining asylum unless you can show that there are extraordinary circumstances that apply or that something about your situation has recently changed.

For example, maybe you recently learned that your uncle — a man you never met — has been arrested and charged with crimes against the state in your home country. Several other distant relatives have suddenly disappeared, and your native country’s government is known for sweeping up and punishing entire families for one person’s crimes. A cousin warns you that your life would be in danger if you return. That might be a valid reason to ask for asylum.

Asylum is reserved for serious situations that require humanitarian relief. It’s important that you never make a frivolous application for asylum just to delay your deportation while you look for other options. Doing so could bar you from immigrating to the U.S. at all. If you’re unsure of what to do next or whether you have a valid reason to seek asylum, don’t act until you’ve gotten experienced legal advice.