Preparing Persuasive Documents for Your Asylum Application
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Everyone applying for asylum must file Form I-589, “Application for Asylum and Withholding of Removal.” This can be done either on your own initiative as described in “How To Prepare an Affirmative Asylum Application;” or as a defensive move after you have been placed into removal proceedings, as described in "How to Prepare an Asylum Application in Removal Proceedings."
In either case, however, the Form I-589 is just the beginning of your efforts to prove that you merit a grant of political asylum. Preparing persuasive documentation in support of your request will be critical.
The Purpose of Providing Supporting Documents
In order to do prepare persuasive supporting materials, you first need to understand what factors are important to an Asylum Officer of Immigration Judge reviewing your application. These include the following:
1. Strength of your legal claim: You must meet the legal definition of a “refugee” by showing that you cannot return to your home because you had been persecuted (or because you fear future persecution) there on account of a protected ground – for details, see “Asylum or Refugee Status: Who Is Eligible?" and “Chances of Winning a Grant of Asylum.”
2. No bars apply to you: Certain bars automatically prevent people from obtaining any form of immigration relief, while others make you ineligible for asylum only. For detailed information, see “Bars to Receiving Asylum or Refugee Status” and “Can I Apply for Asylum With a Criminal Record?”.
3. Your credibility: USCIS or the Immigration Judge must find you credible. that is, your story must be believable, and consistent with both (1) all your prior statements, and (2) external, supplementary documentation.
Including persuasive supporting documents with your Form I-589 can strengthen your legal claim to asylum, explain why no bars apply to you, and improve your credibility.
Choosing Appropriate Documentation
Make sure to include only documents that are relevant and helpful to your asylum claim, and preferably are from believable sources. Focus on quality, not quantity. All the documents must be consistent with your personal story. Documents from official sources or reputable witnesses are more convincing -- for example, government reports or statements from experts.
You do not need to include numerous documents to prove just one point, unless of course (1) that point is critical to your chances of winning asylum, and (2) no single piece of supplementary documentation is very convincing. For example, if the U.S. government attorney is arguing that the “firm resettlement” bar applies to you, and you are trying to prove otherwise, you should include several letters or declarations from witnesses who can address that. Here is an overview of how to prepare different types of supporting documents.
How to Write a Strong Personal Statement
Because Form I-589 provides you with limited space to give your answers, you should attach a separate statement. Your written statement (declaration) should explain in detail why you left your home country, and why you are afraid to return there. Be sure to provide information about your race, nationality, ethnicity, religion, tribal and clan membership, or political affiliations, especially if you are applying for asylum due to having been hurt or threatened because of one of those factors. Your statement should help the Asylum Officer (or the Immigration Judge) better understand why you are applying for asylum.
Describe specific incidents and dates, and include as much detail as you can remember. Do not simply write general statements. If you cannot remember an exact date, state that you are estimating it. Focus on your persecution and/or fear of future persecution. Also discuss your family and close friends if they have been persecuted.
Your declaration may be several pages long, depending on how many facts are relevant to your asylum claim. The more detailed, relevent facts you are able to include, the stronger your application will be.
What Personal Documents to Include
Attaching personal documents will make your application stronger, especially documents that show: (1) your identity, (2) membership in any relevant groups on account of which you had been persecuted, and (3) evidence of your persecution.
To show your identity, include a copy of your passport, or other official documents such as your birth certificate, national identity card, or driver’s license. TheU.S.government expects that you can prove your identity, so make sure to provide some documentation.
If possible, make sure to attach documents showing your membership in any group on account of which you claim persecution (for example, membership cards in political or religious groups).
If available, also include materials that confirm what had happened to you in your home country, such as: photographs that show how you were harmed; threatening letters; or police or medical reports referring to the harm you had sustained.
Do NOT submit original versions of any of these documents. USCIS will probably never return them. Instead, submit copies of documents with your application, and bring all original documents to your asylum interview (or to Immigration Court).
You can still obtain asylum if you do not have personal documents, as long as you are credible. The U.S. government acknowledges that many asylum applicants fled their countries without any documentation, have lost all documentation because of upheaval in their home countries, and do not have anyone in their home countries who can send such documents to them. Try your best to obtain at least some of these personal documents. If you do have them sent to you, save all evidence showing how you had obtained them (such as envelopes, fax transmittal letters, or cover letters that came with your supporting documents).
Types of Witness and Expert Statements to Attach
You can provide several different types of statements (affidavits, declarations, or letters) to support your claim. They can come from several sources: (1) fact witnesses, such as friends and family who had seen how you were persecuted (or at least saw the effects it had on you); (2) a medical and/or a psychological expert who evaluated you in the U.S. for signs of prior persecution; and (3) a country-condition expert (who is very familiar with human rights conditions in your country).
If possible, provide one or more fact-witness statement. You can talk to your witness first, and then draft a declaration (based on what that witness knows personally) for the witness to sign. Include statements only if they are detailed, focus on facts relevant to your asylum claim, and corroborate your statement. Although most asylum applicants who provide witness statements get them from friends of family, statements from authority figures are even more credible (for example, from local clergy, professors, or government officials). Make sure to save all evidence (such as envelopes and fax cover sheets) that show how you obtained your witness statements.
If you have physical signs of your persecution (such as scars, signs of female genital mutilation, or physical impairments due to your abuse), you should see a medical expert, who can examine you and then prepare a report. Immigrant assistance groups and lawyers often have lists of doctors who will do this for free.
Similarly, if you suffer emotional problems as a result of harm you suffered in your country (such as depression, insomnia, or anxiety), see a psychologist or a psychiatrist. Again, ask an immigration assistance group or a lawyer for free recommendations. The psychological expert will talk to you about your emotional problems and about your past, and then prepare a report for you to submit with your I-589.
Also try to include an affidavit from an expert on the conditions in your country. Again, ask an immigrant-assistance group or a lawyer for help finding one who will do it for free or at a reduced fee. Such experts are usually university professors or human rights activists familiar with human rights abuses in your country. The expert will meet with you, and then prepare a report that discusses the conditions in your country, and how your story is believable given those conditions.
If possible, include any articles that help to explain what had happened to you. The more specific they are to you, the better. For example, newspaper articles with a picture of you at a political rally or mentioning persecution of members of your religious organization or social group are very useful. Helpful articles show that your story is consistent with what independent sources have said is occurring in your country.
You may submit articles from newspapers, books, or online sources (if they are published on official or otherwise credible websites). These should be more specific than the “Human Rights Reports” explained below. Many applicants do not have any such articles, and rely on the more general “Human Rights Reports” only. You can still obtain asylum without these documents, as long as you have a strong legal claim and you are credible.
Human Rights Reports
Attach reports about human rights conditions in your home country for the preceding two or three years (and make sure to include the years(s) during which you were persecuted). Information about country conditions can be found on the following websites (look for links to your specific country):
•Department of State: www.state.gov
•Human Rights Watch: www.hrw.org
•Amnesty International: http://amnesty.org
Even though they are long, include the entire reports. Simply highlight or underline (or otherwise point out) the information that is relevant to your claim.
How to Submit Documents That Are Not in English
Make sure that every document that is not in English is submitted with two additional documents: (1) a complete translation into English, and (2) a certificate of translation, which states that the translator is fluent in both English and the original language of the translated document, and that he or she translated the document into English to the best of his or her ability. See "Translating Non-English Documents for Immigration Applications" for more information.