Preparing Persuasive Documents for Your Asylum Application

Form I-589 is just the beginning of your efforts to prove that you merit a grant of political asylum. Preparing convincing documentation in support of your request will be critical.

By , Associate Professor ● Creighton University School of Law
Updated 2/22/2024

Everyone applying for asylum in the United States must file Form I-589, Application for Asylum and Withholding of Removal. Under some circumstances, this can be done on one's own initiative, as described in How to Prepare an Affirmative Asylum Application. Or, it can be started as a defensive move after someone have been caught and placed into removal (deportation) proceedings.

In either case, however, the Form I-589 is just the beginning of someone's efforts to prove that they merit a grant of asylum based on past of future persecution in the home country. Preparing persuasive documentation in support of this request will be critical. This article will describe why this is and how to handle the document portion of your asylum application.

Reasons to Add Supporting Documents to an I-589 Asylum Application

In order to do prepare persuasive supporting materials, you first need to understand what factors are important to an asylum officer or immigration judge (IJ) reviewing your application. These factors include:

  • The strength of your legal claim: You must meet the legal definition of a "refugee," by showing that you cannot return to your home because you were persecuted there or because you fear future persecution, directed at you on account of a so-called "protected ground." For details, see Asylum or Refugee Status: Who Is Eligible? and Chances of Winning a Grant of Asylum. The documents you provide will need to demonstrate either that you personally were persecuted or that such persecution is common against people like you.
  • Proving that no legal bars apply to you: Certain bars automatically, by law, prevent people from obtaining any form of immigration relief, while others make one ineligible for asylum only. For detailed information, see Bars to Receiving Asylum or Refugee Status and Can I Apply for Asylum With a Criminal Record?. This doesn't mean proving a negative, but where possible, you will need to dispel doubts or show, for example, that you have a clean police record or were denied a request to resettle in another country.
  • Showing that you submitted your application before the one-year filing deadline. Proving this can be difficult if you entered the U.S. illegally, but there are types of documents you can provide to help, and exceptions can be made (if you apply for and document your need for an extension of the one-year deadline).
  • Demonstrating your credibility: The U.S. asylum officer or immigration judge must find you credible. That is, your story must be believable, and consistent with both (1) all your prior statements, and (2) external, supplementary documentation.

Including persuasive supporting documents of all these things with your Form I-589 can strengthen your legal claim to asylum, explain why no bars apply to you, and improve your credibility.

Will Putting Together Supporting Documents Cost Money?

It's true that gathering these documents will not be free. If you hire a lawyer to assist you, those costs might be built into the lawyer's fee (which itself is likely to be several thousand dollars). And you might need to pay fees to government offices for official copies of things like birth certificates, or hire experts or medical professionals to produce original documents. Learn more in Applying for U.S. Asylum: How Much Will It Cost?.

Choosing Appropriate Documentation to Accompany an I-589 Request for Asylum

Make sure to include only documents that are relevant and helpful to your asylum claim, and that preferably came from believable sources. Focus on quality, not quantity. All documents must be consistent with your personal story. Documents from official sources or reputable witnesses tend to be the most convincing. But less individual forms of evidence can work too, as discussed below.

You do not need to include numerous documents to prove just one point, unless of course (1) that point is critical to your chances of winning asylum, and (2) no single piece of supplementary documentation is very convincing.

For example, if the U.S. government attorney is arguing that the "firm resettlement" bar applies to you because you spent time in another country before coming to the U.S., and you are trying to prove otherwise, you should include several letters or declarations from witnesses who can address that.

How to Write a Strong Personal Statement

Because the main portion of Form I-589 provides you with limited space to give your answers, it's usually best to attach a separate statement using "Supplement B" (found on the end of the form, and you can make multiple copies of it).

Your written statement should explain in detail why you left your home country and why you are afraid to return there. Explain what the U.S. government should understand about your race, nationality, ethnicity, religion, tribal and clan membership, or political affiliations, especially if you are applying for asylum due to having been hurt or threatened because of one of those factors.

Describe specific incidents and dates, and include as much detail as you can remember, such as, "On March 3, 2024, I was informed that because of my religion, I was to be fired from my job." Do not simply write general statements, such as "I was discriminated against." If you cannot remember an exact date, state that you are estimating it. Focus on your persecution and/or fear of future persecution. Also discuss your family and close friends if they have been persecuted.

Your statement can be several pages long, depending on how many facts are relevant to your asylum claim. The more detailed, relevant facts you are able to include, the stronger your application will be.

What Personal Documents to Include With an Asylum Application

Attaching personal documents will make your application stronger, especially documents that show:

  • your identity
  • your membership in any relevant groups on account of which you had been persecuted, and
  • evidence that you suffered persecution.

To show your identity, include a copy of your passport, or other official documents such as your birth certificate, national identity card, or driver's license. The U.S. government expects that you can prove your identity, so make sure to provide some documentation.

If possible, make sure to attach documents showing your membership in any group on account of which you claim persecution (for example, membership cards in political or religious groups).

If available, also include materials that confirm what had happened to you in your home country, such as: photographs that show how you were harmed; threatening letters you received; or police or medical reports referring to the harm you sustained.

Do NOT submit original versions of any of these documents. USCIS will probably never return them. Instead, submit copies of documents with your application, and bring all original documents to your asylum interview (or to immigration court if you are placed into removal proceedings).

You can still obtain asylum if you do not have personal documents, as long as you are credible in recounting your story. The U.S. government acknowledges that many asylum applicants fled their countries without documentation or lost it because of upheaval in their home countries, and that they do not have anyone who can send such documents to them.

Try to obtain at least some of these personal documents. If you do have them sent to you, save all evidence showing how you had obtained them (such as envelopes, fax transmittal letters, or cover letters that came with your supporting documents).

Types of Witness and Expert Statements to Attach to Your I-589

You can provide several different types of statements (affidavits, declarations, or letters) to support your claim. They can come from several sources:

  • fact witnesses, such as friends and family who had seen how you were persecuted (or at least saw the effects it had on you)
  • a medical and/or a psychological expert who evaluated you in the U.S. for signs of prior persecution, and
  • a country-condition expert (who is familiar with human rights conditions in your country).

If possible, provide one or more fact-witness statements. You can talk to your witness first, and then draft a declaration (based on what that witness knows personally) for the witness to sign. Include statements only if they are detailed, focus on facts relevant to your asylum claim, and corroborate your statement. Although most asylum applicants who provide witness statements get them from friends of family, statements from authority figures are even more credible (for example, from local clergy, professors, or government officials). Make sure to save all evidence (such as envelopes and fax cover sheets) that show how you obtained your witness statements.

If you have physical signs of your persecution (such as scars, signs of female genital mutilation, or physical impairments due to your abuse), you should see a medical expert, who can examine you and then prepare a report. Immigrant assistance groups and lawyers often have lists of doctors who will do this for free.

Similarly, if you suffer emotional problems as a result of harm you suffered in your country (such as depression, insomnia, or anxiety), see a psychologist or a psychiatrist. Again, ask an immigration assistance group or a lawyer for free recommendations. The psychological expert will talk to you about your emotional difficulties and about your past, and then prepare a report for you to submit with your I-589.

Also try to include an affidavit from an expert on the conditions in your country. Again, ask an immigrant-assistance group or a lawyer for help finding one who will do it for free or at a reduced fee. Such experts are usually university professors or human rights activists familiar with human rights abuses in your country. The expert will meet with you and then prepare a report that discusses the conditions in your country and how your story is believable given those conditions.

Including Media Articles With Your I-589

If possible, include any newspaper or other media articles that help to explain what had happened to you. The more specific they are to you, the better. For example, newspaper articles with a picture of you at a political rally or mentioning persecution of members of your religious organization or social group would be ideal. Helpful articles show that your story is consistent with what independent sources have said is occurring in your country.

You may submit articles from newspapers, books, or online sources (if published on official or otherwise credible websites). These should be more specific than the "Human Rights Reports" explained below. Many applicants do not have any such articles, and rely on the more general "Human Rights Reports" only. You can still obtain asylum without these documents, as long as you have a strong legal claim and you are credible.

Including Human Rights Reports With Your I-589

Attach reports about human rights conditions in your home country for the preceding two to three years (and make sure to include the years during which you were persecuted). Information about country conditions can be found on the following websites (look for links to your specific country):

Even though they are long, include the entire reports on your country. Simply highlight or underline (or otherwise point out) the information that is most relevant to your claim.

How to Submit Documents That Are Not in English With Your I-589

Make sure that every document that is not in English is submitted to the U.S. government with two additional documents:

  1. a complete translation into English, and
  2. a certificate of translation, which states that the translator is fluent in both English and the original language of the translated document, and that they translated the document into English to the best of their ability.

See Sample Format for Translating Non-English Documents for Immigration Applications for more information.

Getting Legal Help

An experienced immigration attorney can be hugely helpful in gathering supporting documents from independent sources, linking you up with medical professionals, evaluating the strength of your asylum claim, drafting affidavits, preparing witnesses, and accompanying you to in-person interviews or court hearings. Also see How to Get a Lawyer to Represent You Pro Bono (Free) in Immigration Court Removal Proceedings.

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