The Legal Definition of “Persecution”
The legal definition of persecution under US immigration law is rather vague, with one exception (see the quoted text below). Nevertheless, the following circumstances could support a claim of persecution:
- Physical violence or threats of violence, including but not limited to torture;
- Forced labor;
- Unlawful detention;
- Psychological abuse;
- Economic harm (deprivation of food or shelter, for example)
- You are “forced to abort a pregnancy or to undergo involuntary sterilization, or . . . persecuted for failure or refusal to undergo such a procedure or for other resistance to a coercive population control program” This definition applies mostly to citizens of China.
- Other forms of abuse.
The persecution need not be inflicted by a government — being terrorized by vigilantes or drug gangs, for example, can qualify as persecution.
Your Personal Affidavit
To maximize your chances of success, you should submit a separate personal statement with your asylum application (Form I-589) that details the persecution you suffered or your credible fear that you will suffer if you return home. It is submitted in the form of an affidavit (a sworn statement), which means that you could be criminally prosecuted for intentionally including an important false statement.
Your statement should tell your entire story, and it needs to be compelling enough to convince the immigration offer reviewing your case to grant you asylum status. Since your statement needs to be credible as well as persuasive, you should add as many details as you can without falsifying anything. If you write it in a foreign language, it should be accompanied by a certified translation.
For many people, the most difficult part of preparing the personal statement is establishing a connection between the persecution and your membership in a particular demographic, religious or social group. An experienced immigration lawyer can help you draft your personal statement.
You should know every detail of your personal statement by heart by the time your interview date arrives. Test yourself on the details if necessary, because any discrepancies between your testimony at the interview and the content of your personal statement could hurt your chances.
You are entitled to bring your attorney with you, and you may also bring an interpreter (in fact, this is required if you cannot conduct the interview in English). Remember — anything you reveal to US immigration officials, or to your attorney, will be kept strictly confidential.
Following are some important tips on how to prepare for and conduct your asylum interview:
- Don’t be late! It makes a terrible impression.
- Prepare yourself physically and mentally. Be sure to get plenty of sleep the night before.
- Rehearse telling your story until you know it by heart. When you tell your story to the immigration officer, however, don’t make it sound like you are reading from a script.
- Tell the whole story — don’t leave out anything of any consequence.
- Be honest! Don’t make up any details you have forgotten, because it could come back to haunt you later.
- Practice good body language. Don’t be afraid to make eye contact with the officer, because avoiding eye contact might convince the officer that you are not being truthful.
- Don’t fake tears, but don’t be afraid to cry at the interview if you feel like it. It won’t be held against you.
- Correct any mistakes that may appear on your application — your interview could be your last chance to do so, and discrepancies between your interview and your application don’t help your chances.
- Above all, retain an experienced immigration attorney to help you prepare and to accompany you to the interview.
US asylum law requires you to at least attempt to gather evidence of the persecution that you fear. Do your best to document your claim extensively. The following types of evidence are commonly used to corroborate asylum claims:
- Doctor’s reports. You might consider visiting a doctor or mental health professional in the US if you exhibit signs of abuse.
- Newspaper clippings and other mass media accounts.
- Human rights reports issued by reputable organizations that describe conditions in your home country.
- Affidavits of witnesses to the persecution of you or of the group of which you are a member.
- Photographs and videos.
- Proof of your membership in a particular social group, if you are claiming asylum on this basis
An experienced immigration lawyer can provide you with critical assistance in proving your claim of persecution at all stages of the process.