How to Help a Family Member or Friend Seek Asylum

A review of the many ways to assist someone during the crucial period of applying for asylum protection in the United States.

Applying for asylum can be a long, stressful process. Many potential U.S. asylum applicants have little to no experience living in the U.S. and do not know how to find legal assistance, how to gather evidence, and how to determine if they are eligible for asylum. If you are a family member or a friend of an asylum applicant, you may feel that there is little that you can do to help. In fact, there are many things that you can do that may have a positive impact on the outcome of the case. If you have a family member or friend who has arrived in the U.S. and is thinking about applying for asylum, this article will provide tips about how you can help.

Look Into Whether Your Friend or Family Member Should Seek Asylum

Many foreign U.S. visitors believe that they have a strong case for asylum, not necessarily realizing how demanding and complex the law in this area is. To learn more about who is eligible for U.S. asylum, read “Asylum or Refugee Status: Who is Eligible?”.

Asylum laws in the U.S. are very strict. The best way to determine whether your friend or relative has a good case for asylum is to seek legal assistance from a qualified immigration attorney. This can be difficult for someone who just arrived to the U.S. and has little knowledge of immigration law or the process of applying for asylum. You can provide a great service to your friend or relative by helping them find a qualified attorney who can help. For more information, see Nolo’s article “How to Find an Excellent Lawyer.”

Your local immigration court may provide a list of free or low-cost attorneys who can help with asylum cases. Although your friend or family member may have this list in hand, he or she may not know how to follow up. You can assist (and perhaps save some attorney’s fees) by contacting a no-cost or low-cost advocate or attorney. These attorneys and organizations are often overwhelmed with many people seeking help, however, so you will need to be patient and persistent, and make a lot of phone calls.

How to Help Gather Evidence for an Asylum Case

One important part of asylum case preparation is gathering supporting documents or evidence. Such evidence can be the deciding factor as to whether or not the asylum application is approved.

The best supporting documents are specifically tailored to the asylum applicant’s case. These can include, for example, police reports, hospital records, or other relevant information from the applicant’s home country. Other, less specific but also useful evidence might include official reports from government and nongovernmental agencies describing conditions in the applicant's home country and the widespread nature of the persecution that the applicant faces there. You can help prepare a strong case by assisting your friend or family member in obtaining these and other relevant documents. Learn how Medical Professionals can assist in an asylum case.

Be sure to use modern technology to the best of your ability. The applicant may not be familiar with the Internet or other research tools. If your friend or family member will hire an immigration attorney to handle the case, you can assist by establishing email contact with the attorney’s office and faxing or scanning documents that support the case. You can also ask friends or family in the asylum applicant’s home country to email documents to you or to send them by mail. This step is especially important if your friend or family member is detained pending the asylum hearing. An applicant who is detained will have difficulty obtaining needed documentation and must rely on an attorney or another person to assist with this important step.

Serving as a Witness

If your friend or family member comes from a country where you once lived, you might play a particularly valuable role. If you have extensive knowledge about the country conditions or the person's experience there, you might be able to serve as a witness at the asylum interview or hearing. If so, you will testify about the country conditions and the danger that your friend or family member has faced or will face if required to depart the United States.

Ideally, the applicant will hire an attorney, who will help you prepare a written statement to submit to the court and prepare a list of questions to ask you in front of the judge. You will also need to be ready to answer questions that come directly from the judge or from the attorney representing the U.S. government.

Translating Important Documents

Another way you may be able to help is by translating documents from a foreign language into English. The certification of translation needed in most cases only requires fluency in both English and the foreign language. You can translate the documents and then include a certification that you are fluent in both languages and the translation is a true and accurate translation of the document. This will help the asylum applicant save on some of the costs of case preparation.

Providing the Asylum Applicant With Housing or Financial Support

Your friend or family member may not have the financial resources to pay for things like a bond required in order to be released from detention, the fees to obtain an attorney, or living expenses in the United States. If possible, you can help financially as well. If you pay the immigration bond, the U.S. government will return your money once the case is closed and if your friend or family member fully complies with all of its requirements. For more information about the expense of filing for asylum, see "How expensive is it to obtain asylum in U.S.?"

Some asylum applicants will eventually obtain work authorization, usually after they have won their case. If you are able to front some of the initial costs, the applicant can start to pay you back once they obtain that authorization. If you cannot do this alone, you may be able to reach out to other individuals who can help.

If your family member or friend is new to the U.S., he or she might not have a place to live. You can help by opening the doors of your home until the person can find a place to live. If you live far from the immigration court handling the case, it is possible to file a motion for a change of venue so that the case will be handled by the immigration court closest to where you live.

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How It Works

  1. Briefly tell us about your case
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  3. Choose attorneys to contact you