Asylum Claims Based on Fear of Religious Persecution
Summary: Asylum claims based on religious persecution.
Today I’d like to discuss a selected topic from asylum law, and that is asylum based on religious belief. Just to recap, asylum law in the United States says that individuals who have reason to fear persecution from their government because of the individual’s race, religion, nationality, political opinion or membership in a particular social group, have a right to apply to stay in the United States as legal permanent residents.
It’s important to understand that only these five grounds are covered. You can’t win asylum just because you like living in the United States, or because there are harsh economic conditions back home. Poverty, as harsh as it can be, is not considered persecution, unless it’s on account of one of the five grounds. And it has to be the government who is persecuting you, not your neighbor that you owe money to.
The US government doesn’t want to send people back to their country if there is reason to believe that they will be thrown in jail or tortured or killed by government agents because of the individual’s religion. Most of our clients are converts to Christianity, although there is also the Falung Gong community who used to be a bigger section of religious asylees.
In my experience there are basically two types of religion-based asylum cases: cases where clients experienced past persecution in China based on religion, and cases where clients only became religious in the United States, and while they never experienced past persecution in China, they fear that if they were to return to China in the future, they would experience persecution. The first case is better than the second, that is, if you experienced past persecution, and you have some physical evidence of it, then you are more likely to prevail, because your claim that you will be persecuted upon your return is more believable than if you were never persecuted before.
Now, I have to warn you that religion-based asylum cases are not easy to win. The reason for this is because, as you can imagine, immigration judges are very wary of people coming into court pretending to be Christian or some other religion, maybe they go to church a few times and they file an asylum claim. For this reason, evidence of persecution and evidence of true religious belief are crucial. Religious asylum cases usually come down to the testimony of your pastor, who needs to testify about the sincerity of your belief, your church attendance, and so on. Without your pastor’s presence, a Christianity case is very difficult if not impossible to win. Judges often know who these pastors are because they testify a lot. The fact that your pastor appears on your behalf is a signal to the judge that the pastor believes you are a real Christian, and not just there for the green card.
Now a lot of clients are afraid to testify about their Christianity because they think, well, I don’t know everything about the Bible, the judge will think I’m faking it. Asylum law does not require you to be an expert in Christianity - doctrinal knowledge of religion is not required. What is required is to present the story of your conversion, why you converted, and what persecution you faced if any, as well as the testimony of those who are familiar with your story, especially the pastor of your church.
As always, please be aware that it is a very bad idea to make up asylum stories. Lying before an immigration official is a federal crime punishable with fines or imprisonment. It’s also relatively easy to discern whether someone is lying on the stand. Very few people are able to keep it together in front of an immigration judge, so it’s best not to do it. And lastly, as always, asylum cases must be filed within one year of arriving to the US. The idea is that if you don’t file right after you enter, then you are probably not afraid of returning because you weren’t sufficiently concerned to file right away. So don’t let the one year deadline pass, or you likely forfeit your right to asylum.
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