This is the final (and much delayed) installment in a series about preparing a client’s asylum affidavit. I previously wrote about the importance of including enough detail to support a claim. Today I want to discuss how to provide details about sensitive topics, like rape or the murder of a loved one.
For obvious reasons, most asylum applications involving discussing unpleasant events. However, some events are more unpleasant than others. For example, I worked on a case where my client witnessed the murder of her mother and siblings during a genocide in her country. At the time of these murders, my client was just 11 years old. In another case, a client was arrested while returning from a political rally. While she was in custody, two policemen raped her. In a third case, my client quit his political party and, in a revenge attack, he was shot six times and left for dead.
This is pretty horrific stuff, so how do you present these event in a credible manner without forcing the clients to re-live their trauma?
First, I think it is helpful if the client understands why he needs to explain the painful aspects of his case. I am no expert, but I believe that when a client is educated about the requirements for asylum, he feels more in control of his case and this might make it easier for him to talk about past trauma.
Second, it is important to establish a rapport with the client so she feels comfortable and safe discussing difficult issues. While this may seem like a no-brainer, it is often difficult for busy attorneys to spend the extra time our clients need to make sure they are comfortable.
Third, it is often not necessary to provide a lot of detail about a traumatic event in order to establish past persecution. For example, in my case–where the political activist was raped by the police while returning from a demonstration–we provided details about her political involvement, the demonstration, and her detention. When it came to the actual rape, we stated that the police raped her, but we provided no further details about the incident. If she has established her credibility and the fact finder believes that she has been raped, that is enough to prove past persecution. USCIS has some good training materials for Asylum Officers, which discuss this point:
The asylum officer can elicit sufficient detail to establish credibility and gain an understanding of the basis of the claim without probing too deeply into all the details of a painful experience.
This is a key point–it is not necessary to provide all the details about an event like a rape. The fact that the person was raped is, in-and-of-itself, sufficient to show past persecution.
Finally, and to their credit, Asylum Officers, DHS Trial Attorneys, and Immigration Judges tend to be very sensitive to an alien’s trauma. I tell my clients about this, as I believe it helps reduce the level of intimidation and makes it easier for them to discuss their history.
While it is probably not possible to prepare a case without discussing traumatic events to some extent, it is possible–and important–to minimize the secondary trauma our clients suffer while preparing their asylum applications.