Will my asylum interview be confidential?

Asylum officers are trained to share information only within limited circles -- though if your case is not granted, the same protections may not apply later.

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Question

I am from Bulgaria and have information about certain criminals in my country who want to kill me. I have already given this information to other government agencies. I am afraid the criminals will find out what I have told the United States government. What does it mean that my asylum interview is confidential?

Answer

Information about asylum applications and information obtained during an asylum interview is confidential. This means that the asylum officer cannot disclose any information about you, your application or your claim to any “third party” without your written permission. They are not even allowed to tell anyone that you applied for asylum. (See 8 C.F.R. 208.6.)

In practice, this means that the officer can tell certain other U.S. government officials about your case, such as Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) officials or anyone in the Department of Homeland Security (DHS). The good news is that the mere fact that officials may learn about your case doesn’t mean they will share the information with others. This would be done on a “need to know" basis. Most officials only need to know your information if your case comes before them, such as when you might apply for a green card or if you apply for naturalization. If asylum information is shared, the new official must continue to keep it confidential.

There are certain foreign governments that have an arrangement with the United States regarding the sharing of asylum information. For example, the United States and Canada have an agreement that refugees seek asylum in the first of these countries they enter. There are very few countries that fall into this category.

Asylum Officers take confidentiality very seriously. They are trained to understand the importance of keeping your information, and the fact that you are seeking asylum, from reaching anyone who might endanger you or your family. Officers realize that some governments will threaten their citizens after learning where they are or that they applied for asylum. There is even a name for a person who becomes a refugee while in the United States because their government sees or hears them do something—refugee sur place. Officers also understand that your family back home might be in danger if the fact that you applied for asylum was discovered.

A bigger concern to do with confidentiality arises if your case is not approved after the asylum interview. At that point, it's also possible that certain judges may learn about your case, namely Immigration Judges and federal court judges who hear your asylum claim after a referral or upon appeal. (Filing an appeal to the Board of Immigration Appeals (BIA) or, after that, to a federal circuit court, are options if the Immigration Judge does not grant your case.)

Also, although most published court decisions refer to the asylum seeker as “respondent” or by the person's initials, there is a possibility that the court decision -- which is publicly available -- could include your name, even in its title. This is not likely to occur for many years, however, given how long it usually takes for a case to work its way through the system.

If you are nervous about the confidentiality of your information, you can tell the Asylum Officer at your interview. The officer should make sure you understand the rules of confidentiality so that you feel comfortable explaining what happened to you and what you fear. The officer should also explain what can happen to you after the interview, including explaining the appeals process.

by: , J.D., LL.M.

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