If you leave your country of origin and have reason to fear going back, you may be able to apply for asylum or refugee status in the United States. Refugees and asylees gain a protected status that allows them to stay in the U.S.
According to U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, the qualifications for asylum and refugee status are similar. The main difference is your location when you apply.
You can apply for asylum when you are already in the United States or when you are at a port of entry seeking admission. To qualify for asylum, you must have either a history of persecution in your home country or a reasonable fear of persecution on the basis of factors such as political persecution, religion, nationality or race. Persecution of this kind is of particular humanitarian concern.
If already in the U.S., you can apply for asylum within one year of your arrival. There is no fee to apply. If your spouse is also in the U.S., you can include him or her on your application, as well as your children if they came to the U.S. with you and are under the age of 21.
The qualifications for refugee status are the same as those for asylum. In other words, you can become a refugee if you have experienced persecution in your home country or have reason to fear that you would face it if you returned. However, you cannot apply for refugee status when you are already in the United States. If you have left your home country and are currently residing outside the United States, yet not firmly resettled there, you can apply for refugee status.