What happens at an asylum interview? Hi. I’m Jim Hackings, immigration and asylum attorney practicing law here in St. Louis, Missouri. The asylum process takes a very long time. At the outset, we work with our clients to develop a lot of evidence to show that they are going to suffer prosecution if they returned back to their home country. We do that by getting testimony through affidavits which are signed, sworn statements under oath that demonstrate that if a person returns to their home country, they’re going to be persecuted based on one of the five prohibited reasons.
We do that by developing more evidence from country conditions. We get sometimes expert testimony or country reports that show from either the State Department or news stories that show what happens to the type of people that are asylum applicant is if they are in that home country. Then, we try to demonstrate either past persecution on the part of the person taking asylum that they have been persecuted because of one of the conditions that they have or memberships that they have.
Then, after that, we wait. The asylum application gets filed at the Asylum Office and someone gets fingerprint shortly thereafter, and then the asylum officers are very backlogged right now. There had been a real upsurge in asylum applications; and so, there are cases that are awaiting at least a year before an interview. That year, it does give us an opportunity to develop more evidence that we can present at the interview. It also allows us to prepare our clients for an interview.
What do we tell our clients when they come in to prepare for an interview? We instruct them that when they do go to the interview that their job is to answer questions. They want to tell their story, and this is a little bit more conversational than a typical interview. An asylum interview is not supposed to be adversarial. That is the asylum officer is not supposed to be grilling the person and asking him lots of tough questions. Instead, it’s supposed to be a back and forth where the asylum officer is a neutral observer. They’re not trying real hard to keep someone out, and they’re not trying real hard to get someone in. They’re supposed to be an honest broker and to demonstrate the fairness in the entire proceedings.
When you go to your asylum interview, obviously the most important thing is to tell the truth. At the very beginning, you’ll have your hand up and you’ll be sworn under oath to tell the truth, and then you’ll tell your story. The asylum officer will ask you lots of questions about what persecution you suffered in the past, why do you think you’re going to be persecuted. I always ask my clients what would happen if you got off the plane tomorrow? Ask them to envision that, to describe that, the outline of things of what would happen to them, and then to explain why those things would happen to them because with asylum, you always have to remember you can’t just say that conditions in the home country are tough. You have to show that for you as a particular person, because of your particular status, or membership in a group, or whatever that you’re going to suffer prosecution, you yourself. We really work with the clients. We role play. We act out the asylum interview. We have videos of asylum interviews. We really try to get our client ready for anything.
In the interview itself, we always try to let our clients answer the question themselves. We, too, try to be an honest broker and we don’t want the asylum officer to believe that we are coaching the witness or that we’ve taught them how to testify. We want it to be a natural flow and we want everyone to feel like the asylum seeker has been heard. We will , of course, jump in if the officer does become abusive or ask questions that are out of line. We’ll also jump in if we feel like the asylum officer isn’t understanding what our client is saying, or if our client isn’t understanding what the asylum officer is asking.
Asylum interviews are very thorough. The asylum officer has pretty much free range to ask about all aspects of your life. They’re going to want to know all the reasons why you think you’re going to be prosecuted, all the reasons you’ve been prosecuted in the past, and ask for evidence to support that. You have to bring your own translator to an asylum interview. You can also submit more evidence at the interview. You want to make sure at your asylum interview that you present all of the evidence. If you have testimony from family members or if you have other documentary evidence you submit, and all that at the asylum interview or beforehand.
You don’t want to try to submit it afterwards, and you don’t want to save it for later on at the immigration court if your asylum case gets denied because if you don’t bring out things at the asylum interview, then later on, the government might argue that you have no fabricated these “new evidence,” and try to deny your application based on that.
Every asylum office handles these interviews a little bit differently. Every asylum officer handles this a little bit differently. I never really had a problem with an asylum officer being out of line or being abusive. I try to get my clients mentally prepared for the interview that if they’re going to be answering one question, and then officer has some other question, you’re back with a smile ready to answer that next question. You do have to be an advocate for yourself and you do have to tell your story. It’s one of the great things about the process because you do to get to tell your story. Then, it’s up to the officer to decide whether or not you’re going to suffer a prosecution so as to warrant an award of asylum. That is, should the government give you asylum in the United States.
I hope this answers some of your questions about what happens at the interview itself. If you have any questions about the asylum process or about the interview, feel free to pick up the phone and give us a call, 314-961-8200 or you can e-mail us, [email protected] Thanks.