Asylum Interview and Application Tips

By Angela Torregoza, asylum attorney at Rasoulpour-Torregoza Law Firm

On Monday, June 4, 2018, Ethan Taubes, a former asylum officer at the Newark Asylum Office, spoke to RIF Asylum Support community members about the asylum process, the Asylum Corps, preparing the asylum application, and the asylum interview. Mr. Taubes also answered general questions from audience members after his talk. Read our earlier blog post, Former Asylum Officer Ethan Taubes speaks to community members at RIF Asylum Support. Here are some pointers and FAQs we've taken from Mr. Taubes's presentation.

1.  Submit a complete asylum application. There are three essential elements that an applicant needs to submit when applying for asylum: (i) application form; (ii) statement; and (iii) supporting documentation for your claim. Submitting all of these together will help an officer verify your story and determine your credibility. The statement must explain your asylum claim and help the officer understand how you qualify for asylum. It is important to provide an explanation of any issues that an officer may wonder about. If possible, explain how and when you got the documents you are submitting and the reasons why you are submitting the documents.

2.  Provide relevant documentation to prove your claim. Asylum officers conduct background research and have access to the most current country conditions reports. Do not include documents that give no value to the application. Provide documents that are personal to you as the applicant. Provide articles mentioning you by name, if those are available and support your claim. Submit targeted news articles that corroborate your story. Include documents that support or corroborate your claim, such as medical records and photos that show your injuries. Submit documents that are accurate and genuine, however, fraudulent documents may be submitted, with an explanation of its purpose, if it supports your claim. 

3.  All documents in a foreign-language must have a certified English translation. It is very important that when submitting documents that are not in English, that it has a corresponding certified English translation by someone who is fluent in English and the foreign language. 

4.  Submit additional documentation or updated information well before the asylum interview. Asylum officers have many responsibilities. They conduct two interviews a day and have two days in advance to review a particular application. It is best to submit additional documents or updated information before the interview date to give the officer time to review the new documents before the interview.

5.  Ask for necessary accommodations before the interview. The asylum applicant should be able to accurately and thoroughly convey their personal story and the reasons why they should be granted asylum. Asylum officers understand that a person's traumatic experience may cause them to have memory lapses, anxiety, and other psychological issues. If this is the case, notify the office before the interview so they can make special accommodations and explain why. For example, if you suffer from PTSD as a result of your experience in your home country, provide information about your condition (such as a psychological evaluation) to explain memory issues or inconsistencies. Another example is if you are a victim of domestic violence and prefer to have a female officer conduct the interview, then you may request this accommodation before the interview.

6.  Do not lie. During the interview, if you do not understand the question, ask the officer to repeat the question. If you do not know the answer to a question, say you don't know. If you do not remember details, say you don't remember. It is important to be truthful all the way as lying will bar you from asylum or other immigration relief. 

7.  Prepare for your interview. The typical interview lasts two hours, so it is important that you conduct a dry-run of your interview. Review the asylum application and supporting documents you submitted beforehand. If you have an interpreter, make sure that you prepare with your interpreter. They are your mouthpiece, so they have to be familiar with the way you speak and be able to translate word-for-word. They must be confident in English and understand your dialect. You want someone to be able to stand up for you and speak on your behalf – fight for you.

FAQs

1.  What happens to applicants who are deemed not credible by the asylum officer? Two weeks after the interview, the applicant will receive a written decision about their case. If the officer determines that the applicant is not credible or there is not enough evidence to grant asylum, then the applicant's case will be referred to immigration court, for a second chance to prove their asylum eligibility in front of an immigration judge.

2.  What happens to the applications that have been in the backlog (applications filed on 2016-2017)? How is the office handling the last in, first out (LIFO) policy? What is the rationale for the change? Did the asylum law change? According to the new last in, first out policy, applications in the backlog, including those filed before the institution of the new policy, will have to wait longer for their interviews to be scheduled. If there is an emergency, such as if there are family members whose lives are in danger, then the applicant can make an application to expedite directly with the asylum office. To deal with the backlog, refugee officers are helping asylum corps officers and the office has been ramping up the hiring of new officers. The reason for this change in policy is to deter frivolous claims and stem the increase in the backlog. This is merely a change in policy and the bases for applying for asylum remain the same and have not changed despite emerging trends in asylum adjudication.

3.  When should an applicant apply for asylum? Is there a mandatory waiting period before an applicant can file for asylum? No. The decision when to file for asylum is for the applicant and their attorney/representative to make. There is a one-year filing deadline, but there are exceptions to this deadline. In some cases, it is recommended to apply before your status expires, but we do not recommend filing the application before you have all the necessary documentation to prove your claim. Typically, when you file an application, the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) has a stake in your case, so they would want to see that your case is resolved and you will not become a deportation priority.

4.  Can you amend or modify your application after you submit it? Yes. If you have additional or updated documentation, please submit it before your interview (see tip above). At the beginning of the interview, the officer will ask you if all the information you provided so far is true and accurate. If this is not the case, then this is an opportunity for you to make the necessary corrections.

5.  What happens if the country conditions have changed while your asylum application is pending? It depends. A change in country conditions does not necessarily mean that the person is no longer in danger if he were returned to the country. In certain cases, the applicant has undergone so much persecution in the past that it would be unconscionable to send him back. This is a case-by-case analysis and it is up to the applicant to show reasons why they should not be sent back despite the change in country conditions.

6.  If you have a family member that has submitted an application in the past and you file on your own, is there a connection made because of the relationship? Not generally. Asylum applications are confidential and personal. The officer is not allowed to use other applicants' testimony unless they give a waiver of confidentiality (e.g. "You may use my brother's testimony for my asylum application, and he agrees to waive his right to confidentiality in order for you to do so").

7.  Do family members have to be in the United States to be included in the application? Yes, all applicants included in the application have to be in the U.S. and will have to undergo the interview, including spouses and children. They will be asked questions to determine whether there are issues that may exclude them from getting asylum (called "asylum bar questions"). Family members outside of the country can be added later after the principal applicant is granted asylum in the U.S.

8.  Is it imperative to have an interpreter? Can your lawyer be your interpreter? What happens if the interpreter is incompetent? The asylum office will not provide interpreters so you must provide your own interpreter if you are not confident in the English language. Your lawyer can be your interpreter, but this means that she cannot serve as your lawyer at that time, since she has given up her role as a lawyer to become your interpreter. If the officer or monitor determines that your interpreter is incompetent, they will stop the interview and reschedule for another time, which may further delay the process and the 180-day clock for employment authorization purposes.

9.  What is the role of the monitor? The monitor cannot act as your second interpreter. Their primary role is to intervene when there is an error in the translation and are there to help minimize potential credibility concerns. They are considered a safety net to make sure that the record is accurate and reliable.

10.  What is the role of the lawyer? The lawyer has a very limited but important role in the asylum interview. Their major responsibilities are to serve as a witness and to rehabilitate the applicant if necessary. They make ask the applicant questions to help clarify and make a summation at the end of the interview. Generally, the officer runs the interview and decides on the lines of inquiry. The lawyer is there to make sure that the interview is professionally conducted by the officer and to serve as support for the applicant.

For more details on the presentation, please visit Angela's blog post on her law firm's website.