This blog is not intended to be a substitute for legal representation. It does not create an attorney client relationship. The advice given in this blog is general in nature, and may (or may not) apply to your own particular situation. Immigration law is always changing, and the information provided here is subject to change at anytime. Again, for anyone with an immigration issue it is recommended to hire an immigration lawyer immediately.
1. Don’t delay. Asylum cases are time sensitive. If the application is not filed within 1 year of the applicants last entry into the United States the claim will be prohibited, unless an exception to the filing deadline applies. Exceptions include a change in circumstances or extraordinary circumstances that prevented the timely submission of the asylum application. If the lateness is due to a change in circumstance or an extraordinary circumstance, the filing must occur within a reasonable time after the changed or extraordinary circumstance. If the asylum claim is barred, the applicant might find still relief under withholding of removal or the convention against torture (CAT). However, these alternatives are harder to substantiate than asylum. Also, memories can fade over time, so delay can impact the strength of a case. Documents and records that corroborate a claim might become unavailable or destroyed after a period of time, so going forward in a timely manner is crucial.
2. Make sure to have an experienced immigration lawyer immediately. Failing to hire an experienced lawyer is a big mistake. There are several reasons why a lawyer is critical for success. The lawyer has experience with asylum law, and the applicant probably has no experience. The asylum officer, and/or government lawyer, and/or immigration judge all have experience in questioning witnesses and looking for inconsistencies in the information presented. With the government lawyer it is usually about winning and losing, which in many cases means convincing an immigration judge to deny the claim. An experienced lawyer will have the applicant’s back, and help set the record straight. An experienced lawyer is an effective communicator, to fully tell the applicant’s side of the story, and has the ability to attempt to persuade the immigration judge in a convincing manner. The immigration lawyer is also be able to advise the applicant about other forms of immigration relief which may (or may not ) apply. Other potential forms of immigration relief may include (but is not limited to) the following: cancellation of removal; adjustment due to marriage to a United States citizen or lawful permanent resident (LPR); U visas (for victims of certain crimes); etc., etc. The immigration attorney will help ensure that the paperwork is submitted in the proper manner. Having an experienced immigration lawyer will likely reduce the overall stress level of the applicant.
A recommended immigration law firm to contact concerning asylum and other immigration related matters is Hilf & Hilf, PLC. Hilf & Hilf, PLC has extensive experience in preparing and presenting asylum cases.
3.Present honest and thorough information to your immigration lawyer. In the vast majority of cases, the truth eventually comes out. The applicant’s lawyer needs to know the truth to properly assess the claim, and to give sound advice. To prove an asylum claim the applicant will ultimately have to testify. If dishonest testimony or false exhibits are presented, this can lead to criminal charges and/or a determination that the asylum claim was frivolous. A frivolous asylum claim determination will lead to being barred from other future forms of United States Immigration law relief in the future, regardless of the validity of the future forms of relief.
4. Update any changes to the application to the immigration lawyer. Providing updated and changed information is important. The applicant needs to provide the most updated and complete information, so it does not appear that there are inconsistencies. Also, changes in circumstances sometimes strengthen the asylum claim. Threats, violence, or deaths to other members of the particular social group (PSG) of the applicant that occur after the initial claim of asylum was made, may convince an asylum officer or immigration judge that the claim is legitimate.
5. Be aware of changes in the law. Asylum law is ever changing. Claims that were once viable and winning in the past sometimes get undermined by changes in the law, judicial decisions, and attorney general opinions. The best way for the applicant to keep updated in the law is by keeping in regular contact with their immigration lawyer. The lawyer may (or may not) be able to adjust your claim to correspond to the current law.
6. Provide corroboration for your claim, if available. Corroboration means that there is another source of information to prove the asylum claim. Corroboration might take several forms, such as: medical records that document an injury or procedure the applicant sustained; an affidavit from someone who witnessed some form of persecution that the applicant endured; court records that shows some form of unjust punishment; etc. Sometimes expert witnesses are critical. Psychological expert may provide insight into how the traumatic events experienced by the applicant impacts him/her, corroborating a credible fear. A professor or researcher who is aware of the country conditions pertaining to a member of a particular social group (PSG) often provides important information that corroborates the applicant’s story of mistreatment. A medical doctor might be able to determine whether or not a particular injury is consistent with some form of past abuse, to corroborate an applicant’s story.
7. Don’t wait until the last minute to obtain documents and records. When attempting to get records from a foreign country, it often takes a lot of time to secure records. Records needs to be authenticated, meaning that original documents are needed to give assurances that the document and/or record is legitimate. Delays in obtaining records occur for a number of reasons, including (but not limited to): fear; procrastination; dealing with bureaucracies and bureaucrats; reluctance of a governmental agency to provide record(s); etc. If the document or record is something that is obtainable, such as a school or medical record, the government and/or immigration judge may question the failure to produce the same. In many cases, it is up to the applicant to obtain the documents and records, because the immigration lawyer does not have the ability to subpoena records from a foreign country.
8. Take time to prepare for the individual hearing. At the individual hearing, the applicant should make sure that he/she knows everything in the asylum application, because he/she may be asked about the details. The applicant should practice answering questions with their immigration lawyer. The applicant should make sure that his/her lawyer is aware of any witnesses, the means to contact the witnesses, and the reason why the witnesses are helpful to the case. Advise the witnesses of the date and time for the individual hearing. It is important that the applicant is on time for court proceedings and individual hearings. Failure to attend may result in an order of deportation. Failure of a witness to attend an individual hearing may prevent that testimony from being considered.
9. Request an interpreter, if necessary, in advance of the individual hearing. Even someone who is normally fluent in English, may need help when they are in a legal setting. There are many legal terms that are not colloquial, and that have important meanings, which the asylum applicant should fully understand. Sometimes in a stressful environment, it becomes harder to understand and communicate in a language different from the speaker’s native tongue. In many instances it is hard to describe emotions and inner feelings in a courtroom, which may be critical in establishing a mental injury or harm.
10. Testify in an effective manner. The general rules with regard to testifying are as follows (1) be truthful and consistent; (2) listen to the question before answering it. If the question is not understood, it is okay to ask for clarification of the question; (3) answer only the question that is asked. Meandering from the question makes it appear that the person is being evasive; (4) Maintain composure when answering questions. Do not take it personal that the government may ask difficult questions; (5) Do not be afraid of showing emotion. Asylum cases dredge up bad memories and difficult experiences; (6) Do not speculate or guess, just to give an answer. Answers based on speculation are often challenged.
11. Be advised that there is a discretionary element of asylum. The applicant should make sure that he/she follows the law. Some criminal conduct can undermine an otherwise strong asylum case. It can also lead to being detained while awaiting an asylum hearing.
12. Be prepared for an appeal, if necessary. The immigration judge does not always make the right decision. Sometimes appeals are necessary. Appeals cost additional money in legal bills. However, if the applicant is not detained, an asylum appeal can take a year or two to get a result. If the asylum appeal is timely, the applicant is not removed from the United States while the appellate decision is pending. The applicant should have money set aside for an appeal, just in case he or she needs it.