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Documentary Evidence in Asylum Cases

November 11, 2020

Author: US Asylum attorney Alena Shautsova

Alena Shautsova, NYC based, US Asylum attorney helps clients to identify potential evidence in support of their asylum claims and helps to argue that the evidence shall be admissible in cases where the evidence is challenged on the grounds of relevancy, authenticity, or weight.

What evidence can be used in support of one’s asylum claim in the US? This is one of the most popular questions I receive every day from US asylum seekers. The evidence may range from the types: letters, photos, copies of forms, applications, medical records, but also may range in the likelihood of acceptance and weight.

First, one should know that in the US Federal court system there are rules of evidence: that is written rules which all participants of the court process (people, judges, and the prosecutors) should follow. In the “regular” , non-Immigration court, such rules have strict guidelines, for example, hearsay would not be allowed to be used by any of the parties (hearsay is a statement made out of court offered for the truth of the matter asserted. ) But in Immigration court, the same rules are more relaxed, and hearsay are often used by both the respondents (person who is placed in removal proceedings), and prosecutors.

One of the types of evidence we use in asylum cases is documents or documentary evidence. When we work with documents, we need to follow the rules of evidence and be mindful that any documents that can be produced in support of one’s asylum case can be questioned by the prosecutor or the judge on the grounds of authenticity (if it is a real, unaltered document), relevancy (if it relates to the claim), weight (if it contributes to the person’s burden of proof or shall be disregarded as biased),

In support of one’s asylum claim, a person may present a variety of documents: police and medical records, declarations and affidavits by witnesses, family, and friends, country conditions reports, etc. Often, an asylum applicant is afraid that the documents will be leaked to his/her government. But how then the US government can verify the documents without showing them to the authorities of one’s country?

The US government has established criteria for determining when its own investigative documents and reports are reliable, and they have to identify: 1). the investigator and his/her qualifications; 2). the objective and extent of investigation; 3). the methods used to verify the information discovered. Memo. Cooper, G.C. “Confidentiality of Asylum Applications and Overseas Verification of Documents and Application Information.” As such, the U.S. government can and often will investigate the documentary evidence presented by the asylum applicants to verify their authenticity. Often it is done via consular reports.

The standard for documents’ credibility is the same as for the testimony: and any adverse decision must be based on specific, cogent reasons that bear a legitimate nexus to the finding.” Zahedi v. INS, 222 F3d 1157, 1165 (9th Cir. 2000). However, if an applicant present forged documents, that affects his/her credibility in the absence of explanation or rebuttal. The use of fraudulent documents to escape the country of persecution has been recognized as not fatal to one’s asylum claim. Matter of Pula, 19 I&N Dec. 467, 474 (BIA 1987).

Moreover, hearsay documents cannot be the basis for adverse credibility findings. (Consular report that the Russian’s birth certificate did not conform to the Russian records failed DOS’ own standards and lacked the name and title of the investigator, Balachova v. Mukasey, 547 F3d 374, 382-383 (2d Cir. 2008).

Now, the judge may not exclude the documents and then rule that the lack of the documents is a basis for adverse credibility findings. Notably, in the US, a document may be authenticated via various means:

Certification procedure stated in 8 CFR 287.6;

Fed R. Evid. 902(3)

Fed R. Civ. P. 44

An expert may authenticate a document; and

The inherent reliability of the document (business record exception to the hearsay rule, for example).

A common question herein would be: must affidavits be notarized? Notably, no. Affidavits may not be notarized. First, a person may use an exception to the notarization requirements: under the US Federal law, a sworn declaration may have the same weight as a sworn affidavit. But Immigration courts also may accept unsworn letters as authentic statements: an author may be in grave danger and would not risk his/her life going to the notary public to authenticate his/her signature. Note, however, that the judge would be the ultimate ruler regarding the admissibility of the evidence: at least one judge refused to accept letters by friends and family members stating that such letters were not objective. Djadjou v. Holder, 662 F3rd 265, 276 (4th Cir. 2011).

Finally, statements and reports, by both the applicant and the government, may be challenged for factual inaccuracies or because they represent highly unreliable hearsay. Grigoryan v. Barr, 959 F 3d 1233, 1240-43 (9th Cir. 2020).

That is where the skill and knowledge of your attorney may be particularly helpful and may bring that victory which every applicant for asylum is hopeful for.

If you need help with an asylum claim, please call our New York office to reserve a confidential consultation at 917-885-2261.