The affirmative and the defensive process are the two ways to obtain asylum in the United States. One of the main differences is that the affirmative process is initiated by the defendant while the defensive process begins once an individual is in danger of deportation. Specifically, the individual is in removal proceedings after being stopped at a port or border or apprehended in the United States.
In the affirmative process, the individual must submit Form I-589 to United States Citizenship and Immigration Services followed by appearing in front of an asylum officer for a non-adversarial interview. In the defensive process, the individual's asylum application goes before an immigration judge and is followed by an adversarial interview with that judge in a court setting.
In both cases, an individual can appeal if the application is rejected. In the affirmative process, the case is submitted to a judge while the asylum seeker is generally permitted to remain in the country though not to work.
An individual who is an immigrant and would like to remain legally in the United States may wish to consult an attorney because immigration law is changing rapidly. the recent executive action taken by President Obama means far more individuals may be eligible for legal status in the months ahead including those who have been living in the country for several years and who have had children. Therefore, there may be a number of options available in addition to seeking asylum. Individuals who are seeking asylum may wish to submit Form I-589 and begin the process if they feel that they fall under one of the eligible categories for asylum such as persecution due to race, religion or national origin.
Source: U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services , "Obtaining Asylum in the United States", December 03, 2014