Some Examples of “What Not to Do” in Seeking Asylum in the United States

A television show from the 2000s and ‘10s bore the title What Not to Wear, and featured men and women who had made many purported fashion “mistakes.” Court rulings sometimes educate readers in a broadly similar way, cautioning them about “what not to do” in legal actions. One way to minimize the mistakes that can damage or destroy your asylum case is to work with an experienced Maryland asylum lawyer, who will help you ensure your case has what it needs, and that it avoids the missteps that often derail asylum applications.

A recent cautionary opinion came from an asylum case in the federal 4th Circuit Court of Appeals, which covers Maryland, Virginia, West Virginia, and the Carolinas. The asylum seekers — a couple and their minor child — came from El Salvador and alleged that they would face severe persecution from the MS-13 gang if U.S. authorities returned them to their native country.

Specifically, the couple asserted that their relative, Guadalupe, was the ex-girlfriend of Francisco, a local MS-13 gang leader. 12 days before their asylum hearing, the couple submitted affidavits that asserted that the family was unsure of Guadalupe’s whereabouts and “always believed that she has been taken by MS-13 gang members.” They also alleged that “no one knows where she went. She just disappeared. She may have been taken by the gang members.”

Regrettably, the applicants did know where Guadalupe was. Under examination at the hearing, the couple acknowledged that Guadalupe lived in the same town in Virginia as they did. Under cross-examination by the government, the woman testified that the statements in the affidavits were “maybe” a “mistake.”

Additionally, the couple made other errors. At one point during the hearing, the judge admonished the woman “not to look at the other witness in this case for assurance” while testifying, and cautioned the man that “I see you nodding back and forth to the respondent. That is disfavored by this court. You cannot communicate with the witness on the witness stand.”

The Critical Importance of Credibility

These all qualified as significant instances of “what not to do.” The key reason why they’re so problematic is the element of credibility. When you bring an asylum application and go before a judge in a hearing, one of the biggest – if not the biggest – factors steering the outcome of your case often is whether or not the judge considers you to be credible. More specifically, if the court concludes that you are not credible, your application has little to no chance of success.

All of these errors adversely affected the couple’s credibility in the eyes of the court. The judge specifically commented on the couple’s non-verbal communication while the woman testified, stating that such conduct “does affect the court’s assessment of the credibility in this case.” The affidavits likely were even more damaging. The divergent stories regarding Guadalupe’s whereabouts severely damaged the couple’s credibility. Guadalupe’s circumstances were highly material to the case. (If the judge had believed that the gang kidnapped Guadalupe and that she remained missing after many years, that might have gone a long way toward granting the application.) In reality, Guadalupe lived in Virginia, the couple knew Guadalupe lived in Virginia, and the court determined that “there was an attempt to deceive the court in terms of what actually happened to” Guadalupe.

With the couple possessing so little credibility, the appeals court found no reason to overturn the denial of the couple’s asylum application.

The asylum application process is a path marked by many potential pitfalls. To maximize your chances of success, you need a legal advocate who can shepherd your application through the process while avoiding “what not to do” moments. You can count on the skilled Maryland asylum application attorneys at Anthony A. Fatemi, LLC to be the effective advocate you and your family need. Our team is highly experienced in helping refugees complete this process and get the protection they need. Contact us today at 301-519-2801 or via our online form to set up your consultation.

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