Sometimes clients call us in a panic because they were apprehended crossing the border yet they fear returning to their home country. Individuals fleeing from persecution come to the U.S. seeking asylum because they think that their government cannot protect them. They are often devastated when they are caught at the border and are told they must return to their countries. However, there is one last avenue of relief to pursue before deportation: a credible fear interview.
A typical case occurs when someone is caught at the border and is questioned by Customs and Border Protection ("CBP"). Either out of intimidation or lack of thorough questioning, the border-crosser doesn't have a chance to express his fear. Because he has no visa, he receives an order of removal in a process called expedited removal. This means he does not have a chance to argue his case in front of an immigration judge, but rather receives the removal order on the spot. Because he is not a danger to society, he is then released by Immigration and Customs Enforcement ("ICE") until his date for deportation arrives. He receives strict instructions to report to an ICE office in person whenever required before that date. If he doesn't report, ICE can detain him until he is eventually deported. This is the stage when the border-crosser reaches out to an immigration attorney. As long as the individual hasn't physically departed from the U.S., he can still request a credible fear interview.
The purpose of a credible fear interview is to determine whether there is a significant possibility that the foreign national could establish eligibility for asylum. Seeking asylum is a complicated process and outside the scope of this blog, but the main qualification is that someone was persecuted (or fears persecution) because of his/her race, religion, nationality, political opinion, or membership in a particular social group. As mentioned above, the individual also must prove that the persecution was perpetrated by the government or that the government was unable to stop it.
Requests for asylum are taken seriously in this country, and our laws require the chance to be heard in this situation. Once a credible fear interview is scheduled, the foreign national will have the chance to explain exactly what happened in his/her home country and why he/she is afraid to return. This interview takes place at the local asylum office, which for most of our clients is in Arlington, Virginia. An attorney or friend is allowed in the room with the foreign national to offer support and help calm the nerves of the individual who must discuss what is often times a difficult subject.
At the interview, the asylum officer will question the individual about his fears. The officer will ask what made the person leave his country and what he thinks will happen to him if he returns. The officer will then either make a positive or negative credible fear determination. If the determination is positive, the foreign national will have a chance to apply for asylum and argue his case in front of an immigration judge.
If the determination is negative, there is still one last chance to argue about solely the credible fear determination in front of an immigration judge. If that hearing is successful, the foreign national will then be given the chance for an asylum hearing. If the judge finds that the individual does not have a credible fear of returning to his home country, the individual will be deported.
The credible fear interview is not appropriate for individuals who have no fear of returning to their home countries; however, it is an extremely important outlet because it gives individuals with a legitimate fear a chance to get their foot in the door for an asylum hearing, even after receiving an expedited removal order. The credible fear interview is much shorter than an entire asylum hearing, but it is still important to cover all the facts that could potentially qualify someone for asylum. It is also important to bring any documentary evidence that helps substantiate the past or future persecution.
The credible fear interview allows individuals to have a second chance at asylum if they were not provided an opportunity at the border. Individuals in this situation should begin this process as quickly as possible to ensure that they are not deported without having this chance to discuss their case.