Asylum: How To Tell Your Story


Applying for asylum is a lengthy process requiring extensive preparation and documentation to support your claim. When you apply for asylum, you are asked to show that you suffered persecution or you fear that you will suffer future persecution on account of one of the five protected grounds: race, religion, nationality, political opinion, or membership in a particular social group. Examples of a particular social group include a profession (e.g. journalists) or a familial relationship (e.g. direct relatives of an infamous person). Properly documenting your claim can make all the difference between winning and losing your right to asylum.

The first step to filing an asylum claim is to complete Form I-589. Your Form I-589 should be accompanied by (1) a personal statement, and (2) documents supporting your claim.

Your personal statement is an opportunity to tell your story to the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) and explain why you deserve asylum. The number one criteria USCIS looks for in a personal statement is detail. Although some of the events in your past might be traumatic and painful to remember, it is important that you describe the persecution you suffered in as much detail as possible. Describe in chronological order the events that led to your persecution or justify your fear of being persecuted in the future. Explain specific incidents with as much detail as you can remember and provide all relevant dates. Do not make general statements such as “I was persecuted” or “I was threatened,” but describe instead what your persecutors said to you, what they did to you, how many persecutors there were, what they looked like or sounded like, and what injuries they may have caused you. You should also describe every instance in which you were threatened: who made the threat to you, what the threat was, and what form it took (e.g. verbal, written, over the phone). Your personal statement may be several pages long. The more detail your provide concerning the harm you suffered, the stronger your claim will be.

The other important step in an asylum application is to gather all the documents necessary to show that the events in your personal statement actually happened. Our attorneys can provide you with a list of documents tailored to your specific claim. There are several categories of documents you should consider:

(1) If you are claiming persecution on account of your religion, provide documents showing your membership in a church: baptism certificate, letter from the priest attesting to your attendance and/or religious activities, etc.

(2) If you are claiming persecution on account of your political opinion, provide documents showing your political activity: cards showing your political membership, any materials used in your political activities, pictures of your involvement at political events, etc.

(3) If you suffered physical injuries from your persecution, provide all medical reports and records of hospital stays from your home country or seek a medical report in the United States to have a medical professional document the injuries you suffered.

(4) If you suffer emotional problems as a result of your persecution, such as depression or anxiety, seek a psychologist or psychiatrist to prepare a report documenting your emotional trauma.

(5) If your personal statement recounts incidents that took place at or during historical events in your home country, such as an election that led to rioting, provide news articles and country reports documenting these events (e.g. human rights reports from the U.S. Department of State, Human Rights Watch, or Amnesty International).

(6) If a friend, neighbor or relative personally witnessed the events your describe in your personal statement, or witnessed the effect they had on you, ask that person for a sworn declaration explaining in detail what this person witnessed.

(7) Other suggested documents: photographs, police reports, threatening letters, official communications from your government, etc.

Disclaimer: Every legal matter is different. The outcome of each legal case depends upon many factors, including the facts of the case, and no attorney can guarantee a positive result in any particular case. Any testimonial or endorsement does not constitute a guarantee, warranty, or prediction regarding the outcome of your legal matter. Prior results do not guarantee a similar outcome.