What if I don't feel comfortable swearing an oath at my asylum interview?

If your beliefs prevent you from taking an actual oath, alternatives are possible in order to affirm that you will testify honestly.

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Question

I am a Quaker, born and raised in Russia. I have been persecuted for my religion and would like to file a claim for asylum in the United States, where I can practice my religion freely. I understand I will be asked to swear an oath at my asylum interview. I will not swear an oath because of my religious views. Can I still apply for asylum?

Answer

You can take an oath in the United States by “affirming” to tell the truth instead of “swearing” to tell the truth. At your asylum interview, you can expect the officer to ask you to stand and raise your right hand before testifying about what happened to you and what you fear.

Many officers will ask you to “swear or affirm to tell the truth, the whole truth” without being reminded that you have that option. Other officers will ask you to “promise to tell the truth.” In either of these situations, you would not be swearing an oath (though you would, as described below, still need to testify honestly.)

If the officer conducting your interview asks you to “swear to tell the truth” you can explain that your religion does not allow you to “swear” and ask that you be allowed to “affirm or promise” that your testimony will be truthful.

The reason for swearing or affirming to tell the truth before speaking to the officer to make the interview “official,” It allows the officer and any immigration judge you may encounter later on to point out discrepancies in your claim without your being able to claim that your comments were just casual and shouldn’t be counted against you. Often, such discrepancies form the basis for not granting asylum, because they show that the applicant cannot be believed. Asylum officers must (according to government regulations) ask you about any discrepancies they notice, so that you have a chance to explain why your testimony conflicts.

Asylum officers should be comfortable with administering this type of oath and allowing you to affirm or promise to tell the truth instead of swearing to do so. If you have any problem with this part of your interview, you should ask to speak to an asylum supervisor.

For more information about what will occur during your asylum interview, see the articles on Nolo’s “Applying for Asylum Status” page.

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