I am a citizen of India and a peaceful Sikh activist. I was arrested numerous times and accused of belonging to a terrorist group, when in reality, I was a member of a different Sikh organization -- one that is non-violent. Will this rumored connection to terrorism prevent me from winning asylum in the United States?
To win asylum in the United States, you must have been persecuted or fear persecution on account of your race, religion, nationality, membership in a particular social group, or political opinion. You must also testify credibly about this persecution, meaning that an Asylum Officer or Immigration Judge must find your testimony and documents to be detailed, consistent, and plausible.
If, however, you are found to be a persecutor or terrorist, you will be barred from receiving asylum.
The fact that the Indian government arrested and accused you of belonging to a terrorist organization will certainly be a challenge you will have to overcome. You can do this with credible testimony and any evidence you have that prove you did not belong to a terrorist organization.
Be aware that the U.S. Asylum Officer will most probably conduct the parts of your interview dealing with the terrorist group in a question and answer format, writing down both the questions and your answers. The officer will then read back both the questions and answers and have you sign or initial each page. If you have a translator with you, he or she may also be asked to sign these pages. The reason for this is to be absolutely clear that the officer correctly notes your testimony.
If the rumor that you were a terrorist is completely false, you should do the best you can to find evidence to support your claim. For example, you can submit a membership card of the organization you belong to as well as country condition reports verifying that it is not a terrorist organization.
If, on the other hand, you did have interactions with any group that is a designated terrorist group, you could be barred from asylum. There is now a narrow exception to the rule where you can win asylum if you only provided limited material support to the group, such as food. (See the relevant DHS Notice of February 5, 2014.)
The United States is very serious about combating terrorist activity, and any suggestion that you belong to a terrorist group will be taken seriously. It is a good idea to consult with an experienced immigration lawyer before submitting a claim for asylum or seeing an immigration judge.