You can win your asylum case only if the Immigration Judge or Asylum Officer to whom you speak determines that you are “credible.” This means that the judge or officer finds that you are being truthful and thus believes your story. Being found credible is one of the most important parts of an asylum claim.
If you present your case in a detailed, consistent, and plausible way, you will be found credible.
What Is Credibility?
Credibility is defined as “detail, consistency, and plausibility." Let’s take a closer look at what these words mean.
Possibly the most important part of establishing credibility is to present a story told with the type of detail that brings it alive. You must be able to describe events in a way that is fluid and sensible and you must testify with the type of detail that demonstrates you have actually experienced the incident.
There is no right or wrong way to testify about an incident — some people cry, while others are robotic in their testimony. However, there are certain details you will be expected to know if you claim you experienced an incident. Here are some examples:
- If you claim to have been persecuted by Muslim extremists because you attended church … you should be able to detail the church, the services, the name of the priest, and how often you went to the church.
- If you claim to have been persecuted by the ruling political party on account of your opposing political opinion … you should be able to detail your political beliefs, your political activity, and why you oppose the ruling political party.
- If you claim to have been persecuted on account of a coercive family planning policy … you should be able to detail the abortion or the sterilization and explain why you opposed the family planning policy.
- If you claim to have worked as an election monitor … you should be able to explain the process through which you became an election monitor and any training you received.
- If you claim to have persecuted because of your religion … you should be able to detail the persecution and to provide details about your religion separate from the persecution.
Your testimony before the judge or officer must be consistent with anything you have submitted, such as the application for asylum and all supporting documents, all of which are considered evidence in your case. If you’ve written on the application for asylum that you were beaten in winter, for example, and explained on your affidavit that you remember it was winter because you slipped on snow trying to escape, you will cast doubt upon your credibility if you testify at your hearing or interview that it was summer.
Do you need to know the exact date that something happened? Not necessarily. You can explain that you do not recall the exact date and still be found credible. If, however, you testify that the incident occurred on April 8, you must be able to explain why there was snow on April 8. Since it is so important that your oral testimony be consistent with your written testimony, it is often a good idea to stay away from specific dates on your application for asylum. It is often easier to remember a month, a season, or a year than it is to remember a specific date.
It is also important that your oral testimony be internally consistent. This means that you must answer whatever questions you are asked in your interview or hearing the same way no matter how many times the immigration officer or judge asks you the question.
Immigration Judges and Asylum Officers will also consider whether your story is plausible. If you testify that you escaped your country by walking across a particular bridge but that bridge, in fact, collapsed days before you claim to have walked across it, your testimony will be seen as implausible, and you will be found to be not credible.
Effect of an Adverse Credibility Determination
If a judge or officer decides that you are not credible, this determination will be placed in your file, and could affect the opinion of anyone else who might consider your claim.
For example, if an Asylum Officer determines you are not credible and you pursue your asylum claim in Immigration Court, the prosecutor will already know that another government officer doesn’t believe your story.
Or, if an Immigration Judge finds you to not be credible, it will be difficult or impossible to have your asylum denial overturned on an appeal to the Board of Immigration Appeals (BIA), since determinations of credibility are, by law, made only in Immigration Court and not by the BIA.
All of the Evidence You Provide Must Be Credible
Not only your oral testimony, but the documents you supply to support your asylum claim must be credible – that is, detailed, consistent, and plausible. Each asylum claim begins with your filing an application for asylum on Form I-589. You must answer every question on this form in a straightforward manner.
In addition to the application form, it is a good idea to submit an affidavit detailing the persecution you experienced or fear. This affidavit should be written from your personal point of view (in the “first person”) and should provide more detail about your story than you wrote on the actual application.
For example, if you were been beaten by police during a student protest and you remember it was winter because you slipped in the snow trying to escape, you might write that you were “beaten by police at protest” on the application. You could then add details about the incident on your affidavit by including that the incident happened during the winter.
It is important to submit copies of documents supporting your claim along with your application for asylum. Examples of supporting documents might include hospital records, police reports, and membership cards. All documents must be submitted in English or with a certified English translation.
Every person who submits an application for asylum will be called to testify under oath at the Asylum Officer or in Immigration Court. Your interview or hearing is your place to fully explain your story to the Asylum Officer or Immigration Judge. It is here that you will provide the rich detail needed for the Officer or Judge to determine that you are credible.
What You Do Not Have to Detail
If you were raped or suffered other serious sexual abuse, you should not have to detail the incident to an officer or judge. You should be able to testify to exactly what happened leading up to the incident and what happened immediately after the incident. If your persecution affected you so deeply that you still have trouble thinking about it and explaining what happened, your best course of action may be to visit a professional therapist.
You can ask the therapist to provide you with a letter or report explaining your emotional state and giving an opinion as to any connection between your current mental health and any past persecution or fear of future persecution. You can submit this letter or report with your application for asylum or at your interview.
Showing That You Are Telling the Truth
You must always tell the truth on your asylum claim. Your job is to make sure the judge or officer understands what happened to you or what you fear so he or she can determine whether you are eligible for asylum. If you testify in detail, consistently, and in a plausible way, you should be found credible.