Preparing Our Client For His Asylum Interview

Catherine Seita, JD ‘23, and her clinic partner represented G, a native and citizen of Afghanistan seeking asylum after he and his family fled when the Taliban seized control of the Afghan government. Catherine and her clinic partner prepared G and his family for his asylum interview and also represented him at the asylum interview in Newark, NJ.

Our preparation focused on helping our client, G, give the best possible answers at his asylum interview. My clinic partner and I planned multiple meetings with G and his family to practice questions and give feedback. To prepare for our conversations, we reflected on the purpose and goals of the asylum interview. We thought about the type of questions and the testimony the officer would want to elicit in order to determine whether Mr. G was eligible for asylum. We also considered how Mr. G’s background, including his race and ethnicity, country of origin, and religion, might impact the types of questions the asylum would ask. In our practice session outlines, we included a lot of framing to explain to G why the asylum officer might ask these types of questions so that G knew how to best answer them. We provided feedback on how G could improve his answers by incorporating specific facts we thought would be helpful, and how to give short, direct answers while still providing context. We encouraged him to pause, breathe, and to speak at his own pace, not the pace of the asylum officer. We varied the order and structure of the questions and our tone so that G was prepared for every circumstance. By our last practice session, G’s answers were focused and well-organized, and it was clear that he was thinking carefully about the purpose of the questions and tailoring his answer appropriately.

On the day of the interview, we were all very proud of the way G handled the questioning. His answers were stronger than they had been during practice sessions, despite the added pressure of this being the actual interview. I think our most helpful preparation technique was framing. We explained to G that the asylum officer was not just trying to understand his story and make sure that he was eligible for asylum, but that the officer would also try to assess his credibility. This framing provided G the context he needed to give answers that would best support his asylum claim. After the interview, G told me and my clinic partner how helpful it was that we explained the purpose of the asylum officer’s questions and the reasoning behind our feedback so thoroughly. He said that sometimes people struggle with their attorneys because their attorneys don’t explain things to them, but that since we let him know exactly why we prepared and delivered feedback as we did, he knew what the asylum officer wanted to hear and felt confident in answering questions. I’m so grateful to have had the opportunity to represent G at his asylum interview.