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Jason Dzubow on Political Asylum

The Silence Between the Notes Makes the Music

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I was never quite sure what that meant, but it somehow seems appropriate to preparing asylum cases.  There is a temptation when preparing a case to include everything the applicant brings you: school and work records, letters from witnesses, police documents, medical documents, news articles.  But sometimes in asylum, less is more, and the more asylum cases I do, the more I feel comfortable leaving things out. 





Zen and the art of asylum application.


For one thing, I've seen too many cases where the client included a piece of unnecessary evidence, only to have that piece of evidence create problems.  For example, I worked on an Ethiopian asylum case that was well supported with letters and other evidence.  The client also included a hospital receipt showing that she was treated for stomach illness shortly after her release from prison.  The document supported her assertion that she was sick while in prison, but we had other evidence for that, including letters from people who saw her after she was released.  DHS investigated the document and found that it was fraudulent.  Ultimately, the client was granted asylum, but not without a whole lot of difficulty and expense that could have been avoided if we left out the hospital receipt. 


The hard part, of course, is how to know what to leave out.  Generally, if I have a document that solidly supports one aspect of the applicant's claim, I feel comfortable leaving out other documents that do the same thing.  For example, I am representing an Afghan asylum seeker who worked with a well known NATO General in Afghanistan.  We have photos of the two men together, a letter from the General, and letters from other people attesting to the relationship.  If my client's claim is that the Taliban threatened to harm him because he was seen together with the NATO General, then it would be helpful to prove that my client and the General were actually together (I do not need to prove the substance of their meeting, only that they were together).  The photos alone are enough to prove that the two men met; the remaining evidence is extraneous and has the potential to create problems-maybe a letter is incorrectly dated or the government will suspect that the General's letter is fraudulent and send it for a time-consuming investigation.  In this scenario, when I submit the additional evidence, I gain nothing for my client and we potentially create problems.  So why submit this additional evidence?


The REAL ID Act requires an asylum applicant to submit supporting evidence or explain the absence of that evidence, so I am not advocating not submitting pertinent evidence.  I merely suggest that an asylum applicant does not need to submit redundant evidence once he has submitted sufficient evidence to prove an aspect of his story.  Submitting the additional evidence may "bulk up" the asylum application, but it also creates the risk of an inconsistency-and inconsistencies can pop up where you'd least expect them.


I think this principle holds true for general country condition information as well.  I've worked on several appeals where the underlying case was litigated by someone who submitted copious evidence of country conditions.  Why?  If the New York Times has an article about a particular political rally, you don't need an additional article from the BBC to prove that the rally occurred.  The second (or fifth) article is completely redundant and so it adds nothing to the case.  However, it does serve to burden the fact-finder.  And worse, it creates the risk of an inconsistency.


I guess the lesson for today is: Prove your case, but not too much.

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