Claiming Asylum Based on Persecution on Account of Political Opinion

Wondering when it's appropriate to tell U.S. immigration authorities that you were persecuted based on your political opinion?

By , Attorney · American University Washington College of Law

If you have been persecuted in the past or if have a well-founded fear of future persecution on account of your political opinion, you could have a claim for asylum in the United States. Asylum is an appropriate remedy for people who are afraid to return to their country of origin because they risk being harmed there.

The harm must be serious enough to be considered persecution, and the persecution or fear must be directly tied to at least one of five grounds mentioned in the U.S. Immigration and Nationality Act: race, religion, nationality, membership in a particular social group, or political opinion. When making your claim you can argue that your persecution is tied to more than one ground.

This article will discuss whether your "political opinion" could, realistically, be among those grounds.

What Is Political Opinion for Asylum Purposes?

Political opinion is more than just what political party you support, though this might be a reason why you were persecuted or fear persecution. If you are a member of a political party and the persecutor is a member of a different political party, you can argue that the persecution you suffered or fear is on account of your political opinion.

Political opinion can also take other forms, however, such as:

  • Feminism. In certain countries, people are persecuted because they are feminists. An example could be a woman raped while educating other women about birth control in a male-dominated environment. Another example could be a woman beaten while attending school in a place where the dominant belief is that woman should not be educated. In these cases is it important to specify whom the persecutor is and what the persecutor said that makes you believe the harm was on account of your feminism. (See Fatin v INS, 12 F.3d 1233, 1242 (3rd Cir. 1993).)
  • Domestic violence. Whether you are persecuted for leaving your abusive spouse or abused after stating your political view, it might be possible to show that the persecution is tied to your political opinion. For example, your traditional spouse might have beaten you when you decided to refuse to comply with his expectations, such as by wearing a veil. Even vocally opposing domestic violence could be a political opinion. This is a changing area of asylum law, however (particularly after efforts by the Trump Administration to do away with this ground for asylum), so consult an attorney for a full analysis of your case.
  • Union activity. If you believe you have been persecuted (or if you fear persecution) for belonging to a labor or workers' union, you can claim that the persecution was on account of your political opinion. In many countries, persecutors retaliate against people for joining unions and consider this equivalent to a political opinion.
  • Whistle blowing. Persecution suffered after engaging in whistle blowing—that is, informing on wrongdoing by a person, organization, or government body, often utilizing inside knowledge—can be considered a political opinion. This is possible whether the retaliation against you was by the government or by a persecutor the government could not or would not control.
  • Imputed political opinion. There are times when a persecutor can harm someone because of a perception or belief about that person, even without a solid basis for this belief. If you were persecuted or fear persecution because the persecutor believes you hold a particular political opinion, you might be eligible for asylum even if you do not actually hold that opinion. The important question is whether the persecutors were motivated to harm you because they believed you had a specific political opinion. (Also see Qualifying for Asylum Based on Persecution for Imputed Political Opinion.)
  • Neutrality. If you choose not to support either side of a dispute or conflict, usually either the government's or the rebels' side, you are said to remain "neutral." Sometimes either or both sides persecute people who refuse to join them even if the people do not actually support the other side. This neutrality can be a political opinion, especially in a country where the decision to be neutral would cause a persecutor to believe that you support the other side or hold the opposite political opinion. (See Rivera-Moreno v. INS, 213 F.3d 481 (9th Cir. 2000).)

The next step after deciding whether your political opinion might have been among the reasons you were persecuted is to figure out how you are going to prove that, as discussed next.

Providing Details About Your Asylum Claim

Requesting asylum in the United States involves much more than filling out Form I-589 and saying, "I was persecuted." When you put together the paperwork for your asylum claim, and eventually present your live testimony, it is very important to recall the details of the events that happened to you—either the past persecution or the things that happened to make you fear future persecution. Details should include things like names, dates, and full descriptions of the events leading up to and including your persecution.

Whether you file your asylum claim affirmatively with U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) or defensively with the Immigration Court, you will have to provide evidence to demonstrate your claim. For example, someone claiming persecution based on union membership could present their union card, affidavits from fellow union members who faced persecution, statements from scholars or experts who know about your country's persecution of union members, reports from human rights observers as to the type of persecution taking place in your country, and so on. (See Preparing Persuasive Documents for Your Asylum Application.)

The I-589 application for asylum gives you space to explain your claim and prompts you to provide written details and records about what you experienced.

Showing That You Are Telling the Truth About Your Persecution

Once at the asylum interview or at your immigration court hearing, you will provide oral testimony corroborating the information on the application, and be given the opportunity to expand on your account of being persecuted based on your political opinion in detail. Before presenting this oral testimony, the asylum officer or judge will ask you to raise your right hand and take an oath, swearing that your testimony will be true and correct to the best of your knowledge.

Of course, you will still need to convince the asylum officer or immigration judge that what you claimed happened to you really happened to you. Throughout your testimony, the asylum officer or judge will be assessing your "credibility"—that is, whether you can be counted on to tell the truth. Some people present cases that are mostly fake, as USCIS knows and keeps watch for. (See How USCIS Spots Fraud in an Asylum Application.)

The best way to demonstrate your credibility is to provide clear, consistent details about your claim. If you say that you are a political activist with the CYZ party, for example, you must know the details about the CYZ party and the details about what happened to you in your country.

Getting Legal Help

Asylum law is complicated and compiling a winning case difficult. It is a good idea to hire an immigration attorney experienced in asylum and refugee law for help in preparing and presenting your case.

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