CREDIBLE TESTIMONY CRUCIAL FOR POLITICAL ASYLUM APPLICANTS

By Robert L. Reeves & Nancy E. Miller

The United States is well known as a land for refugees fleeing persecution in their home country. A person asking for political asylum or refugee status in the United States must show that they are unable or unwilling to return to their home country because of persecution or a well founded fear of persecution on account of race, religion, nationality, membership in a particular group or political opinion.

In order to establish a well founded fear of persecution, an applicant must show that the fear is both objectively reasonable and subjectively genuine. An applicant can satisfy the subjective aspect by credibly testifying that he genuinely fears persecution. The objective requirement can be satisfied in one of two ways. One way is to prove persecution in the past, which gives rise to a rebuttable presumption that a well-founded fear of future persecution exists. The other way is to show a good reason to fear future persecution by adducing credible, direct, and specific evidence of facts that would support a reasonable fear of persecution. The objective requirement can be very difficult to prove. Most people do not think to bring supporting documents when fleeing the country that is persecuting them. Equally importantly, governments or other persecuting agencies do not provide affidavits or other documents attesting to the fact that they are persecuting someone.

Many times an asylum officer or immigration judge will deny the request for political asylum because the applicant does not have any independent documentation to back up the testimony given at the interview or in court. The United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit has confirmed that such corroborating evidence is not necessary if the applicant has testified credibly. The Court has held that when an applicant’s testimony is believable, consistent and credible, the government can not require corroborative evidence in order to grant political asylum. However, if corroborating evidence is available, the alien must either produce the evidence or credibly explain why it was not presented.

Because corroborative evidence is often difficult to obtain, it is essential that the alien testify credibly. Credible testimony is more than just testifying truthfully. Interviews and courtrooms are strange settings to most people.

Applicants are likely to get confused and to mis-speak. They are also likely to forget certain facts because of nervousness. It is very important that an applicant be thoroughly prepared for testifying by his or her attorney. The lawyer should go over the testimony with the applicant several times. In fact, the attorney should cross examine the applicant so that the applicant will adjust to answering questions under stress.

Attorneys experienced in asylum immigration matters will be familiar with the types of questions asked by the government lawyers and will be able to properly prepare the applicant for testifying. Be sure your attorney is an expert in immigration law. Also make sure that you both arrange enough time to prepare the case adequately.