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How is "Credible fear" determined by an Asylum Officer?

If you are seeking asylum in the United States, either from outside of the country or from within the country when you are facing removal proceedings, an important part of the process is proving that you have “credible fear of persecution or torture” if you were to stay in or return to your home country. Recounting trauma to a stranger who will make this vital determination can be extremely stressful, so it’s important to prepare yourself for this interview.

So, how do you successfully prove your “credible fear of persecution or torture?” 

The purpose of this interview is to serve as an initial screening before the full hearing in front of a judge. The officer is looking to see if they believe that you can firmly establish a credible fear of persecution or torture during the full hearing. You must be able to show that there is a “significant possibility” that you would be subject to persecution or torture based on one of five categories:  race, religion, nationality, membership in a particular social group, or political opinion.

You should be given at least 48 hours to prepare; oftentimes, the wait time is much longer than 48 hours, and you’ll have plenty of time to prepare. Getting legal advice before your interview can be vital; you can ask the government to provide a list of pro-bono or low-cost attorneys or other legal service providers, but the government is not obligated to provide an attorney for you. You can also ask family members or other detainees for help finding an attorney.

Many asylum seekers don’t mention things that seem obvious to them, but wouldn’t be so obvious to an asylum officer. For instance, if the police are not a trustworthy resource to seek help from gang violence or domestic violence, it may seem like common knowledge and not worth mentioning, but it’s important to be very explicit and descriptive about the danger you are facing. It’s also important to be consistent in your testimony; keep notes of what you want to say while preparing. 

The interview can be in-person or over the phone and a translator will be provided. After basic facts, such as your home country, birthday, and any family ties to the United States are established, the officer will ask if you or your family members have been harmed or threatened in your home country, and if you are fearful of persecution or torture should you return to or stay in your home country. They will ask follow-up questions about the nature of your fear. Then, they will ask you to demonstrate how this potential persecution would be based upon your race, religion, nationality, membership in a particular social group, or political opinion; this is absolutely necessary to pass the interview. 

Ultimately, the interview is subjective. The officer may or may not believe the testimony they hear. The way in which things are translated can also make a big difference.

If the asylum officer determines that you do have a credible fear of persecution or torture, your case will move into the next part of the process and you will be scheduled for a hearing in front of a judge. 

Due to the fact that this is a subjective determination, if the officer finds that you do not have credible fear, you will have the opportunity to request a secondary review by an immigration judge. If the immigration judge agrees with the determination that you do not have credible fear, however, you will not be granted asylum.

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