Asylum offers freedom. Freedom from fear, persecution, and retaliation. Freedom to begin anew and build a life away from violence and heartache. The United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) defines asylum as government-ordered protection issued to those who have suffered persecution (or fear it) due to their race, religion, nationality, membership in a particular social group, or political opinion. Every year, thousands of people are granted asylum within the United States (U.S.).
In America, foreign nationals can seek asylum through two distinct processes – affirmative asylum and defensive asylum. Both processes involve thorough screening, background checks, and the establishment of “credible fear.” This article discusses how to prepare for the standard interview that is part of the affirmative asylum process. If a person applies for affirmative asylum and is denied, they may be eligible for removal proceedings. At that time, an immigration attorney can help explore the possibility of defensive asylum.
Within this article, we discuss:
- The general affirmative asylum application process;
- How to prepare for your interview with an asylum officer;
- What you can expect during your interview; and
- What questions you may be asked.
The Affirmative Asylum Application Process
Any person who meets eligibility requirements can apply for affirmative asylum. When you apply for affirmative asylum, it does not matter how you arrived in the U.S. This means that even those who crossed the border illegally have the right to seek affirmative asylum if they meet eligibility requirements (see below).
Any person considering applying for affirmative asylum must:
- Be physically present in America at the time of the application process;
- Apply for affirmative asylum within one year of arrival; and
- Not be currently involved in removal proceedings.
For those involved in removal proceedings, asylum is still available – you can seek defensive asylum to achieve relief from deportation.
In order to apply for affirmative asylum, you must work with the USCIS. Again, you need to be physically present in the U.S. at the time of the application and proceedings. The application begins with the submission of Form I-589, Application for Asylum and for Withholding of Removal. Throughout the country, the USCIS operates service centers that receive and process asylum applications. You can find your closest center here. It’s important to note that applicants can also petition for asylum for certain family members, including spouses and unmarried children under 21.
Once you’ve completed your initial forms and submitted your application, the USCIS will process your asylum paperwork. Other aspects of affirmative asylum proceedings include fingerprinting and other biometrics, background checks, and the critical interview, which we discuss below.
Preparing For Your Interview
The USCIS will contact you when it is time to schedule your asylum interview. (Please note, there is a substantial asylum case backlog within the USCIS, so this may take some time.) The asylum interview will be conducted by an “asylum officer,” who is a member of the USCIS. The asylum officer will review your information ahead of time and will ultimately decide whether to approve your request. Thus, the interview is the most crucial aspect of the entire asylum application process.
Required Documentation And Evidence
In order to prepare for your interview, collect the following documents and materials:
- Marriage and/or Birth Certificate(s)
- I-94 Arrival Record(s)
- Any ID or travel documents, including your Passport(s)
- A hard copy of your asylum application (Form I-589)
- Any material evidence supporting your asylum claim
Remember, if you have a spouse or children who are also seeking asylum, you must include all their paperwork and identification, as well. They will also need to accompany you to the interview. Further, if any of the required documents mentioned above are not in English, you will need to bring a certified translation with you to your interview. The USCIS’s website contains more information about required documents.
Finally, know that you have a right to bring an attorney with you to the interview. Ideally, you should have legal counsel with you due to the complex and emotional nature of the asylum interview. In order to have an attorney present, you’ll need to submit Form G-28, Notice of Entry of Appearance as Attorney or Accredited Representative. Applicants with attorneys will have invaluable support and guidance throughout the entire process and will have a strong advocate present during the interview.
If your primary language is not English, and you do not feel comfortable reading, writing, or speaking in English, you must bring a translator with you to the interview. This is for your protection and will ensure you can fully understand what the asylum officer asks you. A translator is your responsibility and will not be provided by the USCIS.
During The Interview
The asylum officer will interview you for about one hour. Before beginning, you and anyone present will swear an oath to tell the truth. If you have a translator, they will also have to take an oath that they will truthfully translate all questions and responses. During the interview, your asylum officer will talk with you, listen to your story, and ask you a series of questions. They will have fully reviewed your application before the interview and will listen for any discrepancies or differences. Remember, an attorney will help you throughout the interview and ensure you are fairly treated and supported during this often-emotional moment.
At the conclusion of the interview, you may make a statement, including any information that has not yet been discussed or mentioned. If you have an attorney present, they can speak for you. Your concluding statement is your final opportunity to include any evidence or essential facts that were not yet mentioned. Remember, it’s very important to provide your asylum officer with as much detail as possible to help them understand your need for asylum. This will help them establish “credible fear.”
What Does The Asylum Officer Assess?
During the entirety of your interview, your asylum officer will talk with you and record your responses. Ultimately, they will determine the following, which affects your ultimate decision:
- Do you meet the Immigration and Nationality Act’s definition of a refugee?
- Do you have any existing bars to eligibility?
- Is your fear of persecution, violence, or punishment credible?
If it is more likely than not that an asylum seeker will face retribution, violence, or punishment upon return to their home country, they possess “credible fear.”
Questions To Expect
The asylum officer will have questions prepared for you. They will ask you to provide details about many things throughout your interview. Your attorney or translator can help you understand questions completely and can ask for clarification from the asylum officer. You can also ask for a question to be reworded, repeated, or slowed down.
Many things asked by the asylum officer will be biological in nature. They will also ask you questions to determine if you possess any bars to asylum eligibility. Be ready – the asylum officer will often reword and ask queries in a different way to test the truthfulness of your statements.
Examples of Asylum Interview Questions:
- Why are you seeking asylum?
- What happened to you?
- Who are you?
- Where were you born?
- Can any other person confirm your claims?
- Have you ever committed a serious crime?
- Have you ever been involved with a terrorist organization?
- Do you have any proof of your persecution?
- Were you physically hurt?
Some of these questions are upsetting and may make you emotional. Again, a compassionate and skilled immigration attorney will support you during this difficult time.
Remember, if you do not fully understand something asked in your interview, you can ask the asylum officer to repeat it or slow down. It is critical that you comprehend every question and can respond appropriately.
Receiving Your Asylum Decision
After your interview, you will have to wait to receive your final decision. During this time, the asylum officer who interviewed you will carefully review all information regarding your case. Again, the USCIS requires that you have “credible fear” while meeting all other eligibility requirements. You cannot possess any bars to asylum. Typically, you’ll receive your final ruling within two weeks of your interview. For more information, visit the USCIS’s website.
Contact A Skilled Immigration Lawyer Today
Seeking asylum can be a long and stressful process. Current court backlogs may lead to significant delays in rulings, causing frustration. A qualified and caring immigration attorney will help make the process much less troublesome, ensuring that you receive fair consideration and all required paperwork is accurate and timely. Further, immigration lawyers will provide critical support during the asylum interview, which can be difficult for many reasons. Let a compassionate immigration attorney provide knowledge and guidance throughout asylum proceedings.
Davis & Associates serves clients every day in Florida & Texas. Our expert team is both compassionate and knowledgeable, ensuring that you receive top-tier legal representation. Contact us today to schedule a free initial consultation with one of our attorneys. Asylum proceedings can be stressful – don’t go through it alone.