Letters from Witnesses

by Jason Dzubow on August 16, 2012

One key piece of evidence in most asylum cases is the witness letter.  Under the REAL ID Act, asylum applicants are required to obtain evidence where such evidence is reasonably available.  Often times, the only evidence that is reasonably available is a letter from a witness.  So what makes a good witness letter?

First, the witness needs to identify herself and state how she knows the applicant.  While this may seem like a no-brainer, you’d be surprised how many witnesses don’t include this information.  I prefer that the witness states her name, address, phone number, and email address.  Then she should describe how she knows the applicant (for example, “Mr. X and I met in the church choir in 2003.”).

There’s no excuse for failing to get witness letters.

Next, the witness should list what they know about the applicant’s claim–here, the attorney should emphasize to the witness (or the applicant who will relay it to the witness) that she should focus on the legally relevant facts.  Extraneous material is a distraction.  I can’t tell you how many witness letters I’ve seen where the witness rambles on about how he hopes everything is fine in America and that he is praying for the applicant.  Who cares?  Instead, the witness should mention what he or she knows about the case.  One way to start this section of the letter is like this: “Mr. X asked me to write what I know about his problems in Cameroon.  Here is what I know…”

Also, I prefer that the witness write about what she has seen with her own eyes.  Did the witness see the applicant engage in political activity?  Did she see the applicant get arrested?  Did she see the applicant’s injuries after he was released from detention?  The witness should write what she saw (and the date that she saw it).  Secondhand information is admissible, but most fact finders will give such information little weight.

I also hate when witnesses give me general statements, like “Please don’t return to Ethiopia, it is dangerous here.”  Not helpful.  We want specific information about why it is dangerous, not general, conclusory statements that really tell us nothing.  A better letter might say, “Please don’t return to Ethiopia, as the police came to the house on March 4, 2012 and they asked about you.”

My clients often ask about how long the letter should be.  My hope is that the letters will be under one page, though sometimes more space is necessary if a witness has a lot of information.  I prefer that the witness gets to the point and doesn’t waste time with irrelevant information, so hopefully that leads to shorter letters.  Also, the longer the letter, the greater the possibility for inconsistencies.

Finally, I prefer that the witness include a copy of her photo ID (passport, work ID, school ID, etc.).  Also, if the witness and the applicant know each other from school, for example, it would be nice to have some evidence that the witness attended the school (like a transcript).  Of course, this assumes that the applicant has also included evidence that he attended that school.  

One final note about witness letters.  Unless they are consistent with the applicant’s affidavit, they will harm the case.  I would rather submit no letter than an inconsistent letter.  For this reason, it is important to compare the witness letters with the applicant’s affidavit (and his other evidence) to ensure consistency.  While people often have different recollections of events–even dramatic events–the fact finder in an asylum case will likely draw a negative inference from inconsistent statements, and this could cause the application to be denied as not credible.

Witness letters are often crucial to a successful asylum application.  A well-crafted letter will help your client’s case and could make the difference between a grant and a denial.

{ 18 comments… read them below or add one }

EKK April 2, 2017 at 6:09 pm

I can’t thank you enough for all the golden, yet free information that gives me hope in such unpredictable backlog of assylum.

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Suraj March 30, 2017 at 1:10 pm

Hi Jason,
Greetings again. My wife and my daughter they are back in my country of origin. And i am really worried about them but am confused if i should actually expedit my case or not which is in LA, CA. So what you’re saying here is that the witness who writes a letter has to write in a manner that the description is clearly about my incident and my reasons for seeking asylum in which she witnessed the wound and else that i suffered of which i fear and feel persecuted going back to my country? Is that the most strong document to present if my case gets expedited and i get an early call for the interview. I have submitted all the relevant documents along with the pictures of the state in which i was when i was attacked along with my asylum application. What do you suggest jason? Because i filed my case all by myself along with the full story describing it in full but now am considering to expedit it because the waiting time in LA is relatively much longer than most of the other states. Thank you and am really confused right now?

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Jason Dzubow March 31, 2017 at 6:15 am

You can ask to expedite based on family separation. You need evidence about that (as discussed in an article from yesterday). As discussed in the above article, witness letters describing what people know about your problems are also helpful to a case. Take care, Jason

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Sami October 22, 2016 at 2:36 pm

Hey Jason,

I cant enough to say thank you for your help. But i need one favor. Is there a posiblities to get one sample letter? I am waiting your reply.

Regards

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Jason Dzubow October 23, 2016 at 10:12 pm

Sorry – I do not even give sample letters to my clients. The witness should write what he or she knows, and keep the letter relatively short, as discussed above. Take care, Jason

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Fabiana August 6, 2016 at 8:15 pm

I found your article very helpful! Now I would like to ask you if the witness letters need to be hand written or can they be typed?

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Jason Dzubow August 7, 2016 at 9:10 am

It doesn’t matter in terms of substance, but I strongly prefer typed so that the Asylum Officer or Judge can read it. Handwriting is usually too hard to read. It should be signed by hand. Take care, Jason

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Tim July 25, 2016 at 11:47 am

Hello,

I’m working on a letter for a friend seeking asylum. I was planning to have my letter notarized, but I am wondering if this is necessary or if copy of birth certificate and driver’s license is sufficient. Also, if notarized, what is a good format to include that?

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Jason Dzubow July 25, 2016 at 10:08 pm

We typically do not get letters notarized, but there is no harm in that. There is also no official format, though they want to see the basic info (name, address, phone number of the letter writer, how the writer knows the applicant, what the writer knows about the case). Normally, we just include the photo ID and any other relevant evidence (for example, if the letter writer knows my client from university, we might include the writer’s university transcript to prove he was at the school at the same time as my client). Take care, Jason

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Tim July 26, 2016 at 11:47 pm

Thank you so much.

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Cris June 13, 2016 at 3:37 pm

Hi Jason,

I kindly want to ask if witness letters should be written in English or just with the local language back home and get translated here?

Which one is convenient for the interview officers?

Thank you for your reply

Regards

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Jason Dzubow June 14, 2016 at 6:17 am

If the person speaks English, she can write the letter in English. Otherwise, we normally have the person write the letter in her native language and submit it with an English translation (and a certificate of translation). Also, we try to include a copy of the person’s photo ID. Take care, Jason

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Lula Bahta July 14, 2016 at 7:53 am

Please I need help to write a support letter for my client for his court. Yes In English.

Thank you for your help.

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David February 13, 2016 at 9:35 pm

Mr. Jason Dzubow, thank you the helpful and interesting articles. For witnesses who live outside the United States, is it necessary to submit an original with the original signature, or is a scanned copy okay?

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Jason Dzubow February 15, 2016 at 8:59 am

It is nice to get the original if you can, but we normally submitted only scanned copies with a copy of the photo ID. Take care, Jason

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Sam March 31, 2015 at 11:39 pm

Thanks for the important information. Do you have any suggestions as to how many letters from witnesses would be considered normally sufficient in an asylum case? I know “it depends” on each case buit would you say that 2 letters are fine or that 6 or 7 letters are too much?

Thanks!
Sam

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Jason Dzubow April 1, 2015 at 6:31 am

There is no right answer, of course, but I think 1 letter is bad – that indicates that you know you are supposed to get letters, but you got only one. Our typical cases have three to five letters, but we have done cases where there were no letters or where there were 10 or more letters. We’ve even done cases with one letter. They key is that if there is a witness who is available to write a letter, the Asylum Officer may expect a letter from that person. So it is better to get the letter. Otherwise, you may need to explain why you failed to get it, and under the REAL ID Act, that could be a problem for the case.

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watt August 16, 2012 at 8:16 pm

Actually i really enjoy the article and others on the blog.very helpful

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