Proving Persecution for an Asylum Application

One of the biggest challenges in applying for asylum in the U.S. is proving that you were, in fact, persecuted or you reasonably fear that you might be persecuted in the future.

By , J.D.

One of the biggest challenges in applying for asylum in the United States is proving that you were, in fact, persecuted or you reasonably fear that you might be persecuted in the future. Yet you probably didn't come to the U.S. with a lot of documents to prove what happened, if indeed any such documents exist. This article will help you gather the needed forms of proof.

Why Is It So Important to Prove You Were Persecuted?

Plenty of applicants have submitted fraudulent applications for asylum over the years, and the U.S. authorities know it. So, although they understand the plight of people truly fleeing persecution, they're also on the lookout for those who have just written up a fake story, or memorized a story that a friend told them.

The result is that you'll need to carefully prepare your own story in writing, and be ready to answer questions about it orally (before an asylum officer and, if that fails, before a U.S. immigration judge and defense attorney); and also supply as much corroborating evidence as possible.

You can't just say "I was persecuted" or "I'm afraid" and expect to obtain the right to remain in the United States as an asylee (which leads ultimately to a green card or lawful permanent residence).

Protecting Your Mental Health During the Asylum Process

Dredging up painful past experiences of things like threats, persecution, and torture will not be easy. Realize that extra self care, or professional help, might be required as you remember the various details. Unfortunately, bringing them to light is a necessary part of the process. The more you suffered, the stronger your case will be. But during interviews or proceedings, don't hesitate to tell the lawyer, USCIS officer, or judge if you need a break, or some moments to compose yourself.

If you are a woman and feel uncomfortable talking about certain elements of your persecution in front of a man, you can request a female asylum officer for your USCIS interview. If the matter goes to immigration court, however, you cannot request a female immigration judge.

If you underwent torture or suffered other medical or psychological stress in your country, it might help to get a written evaluation by a doctor who is trained in this area and can verify that you suffer from the effects of these things. The doctor might also be able to explain why you appear shy or hesitant when telling your story (if that's the case).

Preparing Your Personal Affidavit and Testimony for Asylum Interviews or Hearings

Succeeding with your U.S. asylum application will depend a great deal on your own ability to put forth a detailed, compelling story of what occurred, including names, dates, places, and other details.

For starters, you'll need to write all this down, to accompany your application for asylum. A lawyer helping a client prepare an asylum case doesn't rely only on the small-ish spaces on Form I-589. The lawyer instead spends a long time (often many sessions) interviewing the person, and then prepares a document, often several pages long, that tells the applicant's full, detailed story.

Whether you do this on your own or with a lawyer, pay close attention to the details. If you discover too late that you were wrong about something, or you come up with different information when being questioned personally, the immigration examiners might start doubting your credibility or ability to tell the truth.

You'll probably need to read over your written statement several times in preparation for your asylum interview or court hearing. Even someone telling the truth might experience memory lapses, or have trouble remembering dates. Write down the dates when everything you're talking about happened, and double check these against any forms of evidence you might have, such as calendars, letters or emails from friends, and store receipts. Then read your statement several times to refresh your memory, and test yourself on specific dates.

Also realize that the hearing officer or judge deciding your case is allowed to take into account your demeanor when testifying, as well as any previous statements you made while not under oath. This can create problems for people who, for example, have been culturally trained not to look anyone in the eye. Looking someone straight in the eye is, in the U.S., considered a sign of honesty. The asylum officer or immigration judge might interpret looking at your hands or at the floor as a sign that you're lying.

Preparing Corroborating Evidence of Persecution

Based on the 2005 REAL ID Act, asylum applicants are required to at least attempt to obtain corroborating evidence of persecution. (See 8 U.S.C. § 1158.)

The ideal, of course, is personal documentation. If, for example, you received a threatening letter, have photos of the persecution, or can supply copies of doctors' reports (from your home country) describing what happened to you or newspaper articles describing something that you lived through, those would be great.

Most applicants, however, must provide less direct evidence. For example, someone who was persecuted as a union member might provide a copy of a membership card plus independent accounts of the persecution faced by other members of that union.

A good asylum application is accompanied by a thick stack of documents: newspaper clippings, human rights reports from independent agencies or watchdog groups, and more; all containing information about the kind of human rights violation you're describing. If, for example, you fled your country because local government officials were threatening to imprison you after you sent a letter to the newspaper editor protesting a political matter, you'd need to provide evidence that others who expressed similar political opinions have been imprisoned or threatened with prison. (And you'd definitely want to produce a copy of the newspaper's printing of your letter.)

If you were physically harmed in a way that left physical or psychological scars or other lasting damage, it can also help to visit a doctor in the U.S. and get a report analyzing what the doctor believes happened to you.

These are just a few ways to get corroborating evidence. Each person's case is different, so you'll want to think creatively about what documents you can provide that will convince the decision-maker in your case.

You Might Want to Hire an Immigration Attorney

Preparing an application for asylum, and preparing to testify, are not easy tasks. For best results, you should hire an experienced immigration attorney to help. See What Immigration Lawyers Report About Their Fees and Free Consultations and check with local nonprofit (charitable) organizations about volunteer or reduced-free lawyers.


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