How USCIS Spots Fraud in an Asylum Application

Avoid having a finding of a frivolous asylum application on your immigration record.

By , J.D. · University of Washington School of Law

In making an application for asylum in the United States, the applicant's honesty and truthfulness is critical. After all, most asylum applicants don't arrive in the U.S. with documents or other direct evidence of the threats or persecution that they experienced in their home country. Winning a grant of asylum is largely up to their ability to recount their experiences completely, consistently, and persuasively.

By the same token, any indication that the asylum applicant is lying or fabricating even minor portions of their claim puts the whole story into doubt, and greatly increases the chance of the U.S. government denying their claim.

Consequences of a Fraud Finding in an Asylum Application

Fraud is taken very seriously by the asylum decision makers, namely the officials at U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) and (where the applicant is already in removal proceedings) the Executive Office of Immigration Review (EOIR). At the least, a fraud finding by USCIS will result in a denial of the person's affirmative asylum application, which (unless the person has some other right to remain in the U.S.) will automatically put the applicant into removal (deportation) proceedings before an Immigration Judge at the EOIR.

Also, if any material element of someone's asylum claim appears to have been knowingly, deliberately fabricated, and the person can't account for the related discrepancies or implausibility, that person's claim may be found frivolous. (See 8 C.F.R. § 1208.20 and Section 208(d)(6) of the Immigration and Nationality Act or I.N.A.) After such a finding, the person will be permanently ineligible for any U.S. immigration benefits, whether asylum, a visa, or something else.

Is Every Denied Asylum Case Considered Fraudulent?

Fortunately, not everyone who is denied asylum is considered to have committed fraud. Some applicants might tell a truthful story, but one that simply fails to meet the qualifications for asylum. Or, some applicants' stories might contain minor discrepancies that don't appear to be outright or deliberate lies, but that undercut their overall credibility and perhaps lead to a denial.

Will Every Denied Asylum Case Lead to Deportation Proceedings?

If USCIS denies an applicant's asylum request, but the person has some other valid status in the U.S. to fall back on, such as a student or work visa, it's possible the person will be able to keep that status and remain in the United States.

The USCIS officer reviewing the case is, however, expected to refer any instances of fraud to Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). That agency will then follow up and investigate the matter further. If it believes the applicant to have committed fraud, it can place the person into removal proceedings and strip them of their alternative immigration status.

Common Fraud Indicators in a Written Asylum Application

USCIS's first opportunity to ferret out fraud usually occurs when reviewing the Form I-589 and supporting documents that an applicant submits in order to request asylum. The reviewing officer will look for such things as:

  • Signs that the applicant has submitted previous applications for asylum, perhaps under a different name or telling a different story.
  • The person who prepared the application being known to the U.S. government for submitting fraudulent or boilerplate applications for asylum.
  • Documents, such as copies of the person's passport, birth certificate, letters, or newspaper articles, that appear to have been altered or faked or are otherwise suspect.
  • Photographs that look different than the person on the passport, a different age or nationality than the applicant claims, or otherwise suggest an imposter.
  • Fingerprint (biometrics) results that indicate different facts than claimed, or show a criminal history.
  • A travel history that doesn't match the person's claim or is otherwise suspicious, including return trips to the country where the supposed persecution took place.
  • Information conflicts with asylum or other immigration applications submitted by other family members or associates.
  • An unusually long time spent in the U.S. before applying for asylum.

These aren't the only ways in which USCIS might spot fraud, of course, but they are ones that USCIS will consciously and systematically look for.

Common Fraud Indicators in Oral Testimony on an Asylum Application

Everyone who applies for asylum in the United States must appear for an in-person interview before an officer of USCIS; and if the officer doesn't grant asylum, again before an Immigration Judge. The officer or judge will listen, ask questions, and seek to hear the person's complete story before making a decision on the case.

Again, consistency, plausibility, and the basic coherence of the story are key. But the decision maker may also look at the person's behavior for signs of fraud, watching for such things as:

  • Late arrival to the interview.
  • Excessive nervousness.
  • Inability to remember basic things about the claim.
  • Reciting one's story as if it had been memorized.
  • Evasiveness in answering questions.
  • Lack of interest in the interview or interaction with the USCIS officer.
  • Over-eager interaction with the USCIS officer.
  • Lack of eye contact with the USCIS officer.
  • Prompting or correcting from one's attorney or interpreter, or reading off a "cheat sheet."

If you're planning to apply for asylum in the U.S., stay away from any lawyer, notario, or other person who advises you to commit fraud in the course of doing so. (Also see Applying for U.S. Asylum: How Much Will It Cost?.)

But do make sure you understand the grounds for asylum eligibility, and do your best to submit and document a claim that will meet the legal requirements.

Getting Legal Help

An experienced immigration attorney is the best resource for help with the process of preparing a convincing asylum case without feeling the need to lie. Many nonprofit organizations will help you find free or low-cost legal help with an asylum case.

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