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Jason Dzubow on Political Asylum

Dear Client: I am Not Your Mommy

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Some clients just don't get it.* No matter how often you tell them what evidence they need for their case, they bring you bupkis.*


Generally, when I start an asylum case, I ask the client to give me the general story about why he needs asylum.* I then prepare a detailed list of documents that he should get: letters from witnesses, school records, work records, medical reports, police reports, etc., etc.* I explain to the client why he needs to get these documents, and why, under the REAL ID Act, he should try to get the documents even when he thinks he will not be able to obtain them (for those of you lucky enough not to be familiar with the REAL ID Act, the Act requires an asylum seeker to obtain evidence that is reasonably available.* If the alien cannot obtain a particular piece of evidence, he must explain why he could not get it.* Thus, if the client tries to get all relevant evidence-even if he fails-at least he will be able to explain to the adjudicator what efforts he made to obtain the evidence and why he failed to get it).



I make analogies to help the client understand (evidence is like the foundation upon which a house, i.e., your case, is built).* I make them sign a document indicating that it is their responsibility to obtain the evidence on the list, and that if they don't get the evidence, they could lose their case.


Is all this excessive?* You would think so.* You would think that a person who fears persecution in her homeland and who shells out a pretty penny for attorney's fees would be motivated to do everything possible to win her case.*


Many clients do, in fact, make diligent efforts to get evidence in their cases.* It is surprising, however, the number of asylum seekers who do nothing or very little to help themselves.* Such clients greatly reduce their chances for a successful outcome.


So what can be done about these slacker-clients?* One possibility, of course, is to do nothing.* If the client does not care enough about his case to collect evidence, maybe it is best to prepare the case with the available evidence and let the chips fall where they may.* This does not seem like a very satisfactory solution, though.* For one thing, there may be a legitimate reason why the client is not cooperating.* Perhaps he does not understand what is needed or why such evidence is important.* Maybe he is afraid or embarrassed to ask friends or relatives to help him with his case.* Maybe he fears that the people sending evidence will be endangered.* Some of these problems might be offset by carefully explaining why documents are needed and that all such communications are confidential.* For obvious reasons, however, many asylum seekers are mistrustful of government workers (and lawyers, who often seem like government workers), and getting them to trust you-and getting them to trust "the system"-requires patience.*


Another way to encourage clients to gather evidence is to nag them.* "Nagging" or, more politely, "repeatedly reminding" clients to get evidence may work, but it takes time to stay on top of each client's case.* In my practice, I don't have a lot of extra time to chase after my clients.* I do, however, try to remind them once or twice about the need for evidence.


I find that giving the client a check list of needed documents is helpful.* When it comes time to remind them about gathering evidence, I always refer them to the check list.* It helps me remember their case as well.* A check list signed by the client has an added benefit-if the case is unsuccessful, the client cannot complain that you failed to advise her about the need for evidence.


Asylum seekers are not always the easiest clients.* As lawyers, we need to use our limited time efficiently.* That means informing the clients about the need for documents, and periodically reminding them about what is needed.* For those clients who don't make an effort to get documents, a bit of cajoling, threatening, and/or nagging from the attorney might encourage them to gather needed evidence.* And that could make the difference between a successful case and a denial.


Originally posted on the Asylumist: www.Asylumist.com.

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  1. Matthew Kolken's Avatar
    So true!
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