“What Does The Asylum Officer Want to Hear?”

Last time we discussed the importance of having a legal brief in the asylum application.  Today I want to talk about a subject that is very important to me: Why applicants should not tell the asylum officer what they think the officer wants to hear.

In an earlier post, I mentioned a memorized “script” .I would say to each applicant regarding their right to a lawyer at the interview.  In fact, I had many such “scripts” I would deliver to applicants depending on the circumstances.  Before becoming an asylum officer, we had to attend six weeks of residential training at a law enforcement training center in Georgia, learning the basics of asylum law and interviewing techniques.  When officers first learn to conduct asylum interviews, there are many scripts they have to memorize.  Once an officer actually begins adjudicating cases, they forget much of the template language and develop their own interviewing style.  However, there are certain canned phrases which remain useful throughout one’s career as an asylum officer.  Here is one such phrase, which I would often use to preface the interview:

“If you are unable to answer any of my questions, it’s fine to say that you don’t know, don’t understand, or that you don’t remember.  Please do not tell me what you think I want to hear.”

This is a very important point.  Many asylum applicants second-guess their own testimony and wind up sabotaging themselves at the interview.  It’s important to understand that asylum officers are professionals.  Determining credibility is one of their core responsibilities.  Each day they interview 2-3 applicants, a large portion of whom have credibility issues.  After performing this job a short time, asylum officers become very good at finding inconsistencies in people’s stories.

In contrast, applicants generally only have one opportunity in their lifetimes to present an asylum claim.  Therefore, an individual applicant’s chances of outsmarting an asylum officer are not very good.  Therefore, it’s best to tell one’s story in as straightforward a fashion as possible and to adhere closely to one’s own experience.  Overthinking one’s responses is likely to make matters worse.  Even innocent attempts to cater one’s responses to the asylum officer’s preferences are likely to smack of insincerity.

When I coach clients on their asylum interview, when a client does not know how to answer one of my questions, they will often ask, “What do you think the asylum officer wants to hear?”  I always answer, “Forget what they want to hear, what really happened?”  If you still don’t know how to answer, it’s best that you respond, “I don’t know, or “I don’t remember.”  These are natural responses.  If a story is too perfect, the asylum officer will suspect that the applicant is not being truthful.  Ordinary people sometimes forget things or are unaware of important details; however, they will not usually contradict their own story.  Liars tend to have an answer for everything, but will often testify inconsistently when pressed on details.

In order to have a successful asylum interview, the most important thing is to have confidence.  If you think too hard about the asylum officer’s reactions, it will negatively impact your confidence.  Know your story, stick to it and do not attempt to talk about things you do not know.  What’s the best way to know your story?  Practice!  An asylum interview is a performance.  Like any performance, it improves with practice.  If the asylum interview is your first time telling your story, you are not adequately prepared.  This is one of the key places where Alexandre Law can help benefit your asylum claim.  It has been truly remarkable to me to see the improvement that clients can show after just one or two mock interviews.

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