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What is a credible fear interview and what to do if you are found to have a negative credible fear

One of the first steps in the asylum process may be a “credible fear interview” or a “reasonable fear interview.

Many times, those who escape violence and persecution take dangerous paths to seek safety in the U.S. while escaping. Several times, asylum seekers do not arrive at the border or Port of Entry (POE) with the required documents.

In many cases, they may be fleeing their home countries in such haste that they do not have time to gather all the necessary paperwork. In other cases, corrupt officials in their home countries may have confiscated or destroyed their documents to prevent them from leaving.

Additionally, some asylum seekers may come from countries where it is nearly impossible to obtain travel documents due to conflict or instability.

Regardless of the reason, arriving without documentation does not mean that an individual is automatically ineligible for asylum; instead, it simply means that they will need to undergo additional screening during the asylum process. This is often called a credible fear interview.

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What are the consequences of trying to enter the USA without documents at a POE or border?


Suppose you attempt to enter the United States without proper documentation at a Point of Entry (POE) or border. In that case, you will be subject to inspection by a U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) officer.


CBP officers can place you in expedited removal, and you can be deported without seeing an immigration judge, or CBP officers can refer you to immigration court to determine admissibility.

The CBP makes such decisions by analyzing whether you fear returning to your home country.

There are three types of protection available to people who fear harm in their home countries:

(1) Asylum
(2) Withholding of Removal and
(3) Relief under the Convention Against Torture (CAT).

Asylum requires that you show that there is a one in ten chance that you will be persecuted in your home country because of your race, religion, nationality, political opinion or membership in a protected group.

If you attempted to enter the United States without valid travel documents and were detained at or near a port of entry and you told the immigration officials that you have a fear of returning to your country due to one of the above then you should be given a “credible fear interview”.

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When credible fear is established

When CBP is convinced that the individual expresses a fear of returning, they are detained until they receive a credible fear interview to determine if they have an arguable case for asylum. If the officer believes you are eligible and there is a significant possibility that you will be persecuted, you will pass the credible fear interview and will be allowed to apply for asylum before an Immigration Judge. The individual is kept in detention or paroled until their day in front of an immigration judge. The individual will have to appear before an immigration judge, where they can present their case for why they should be permitted to stay in the United States. Statistics show that individuals represented by an attorney are five times more likely to succeed in their asylum applications. The immigration judge will determine whether or not they will be allowed to stay in the United States. If asylum is granted, the person is allowed to stay in the U.S. and allowed to apply for a green card or permanent residency based on that status. If asylum is denied, the individual has the right to appeal the decision to the Board of Immigration Appeals (BIA).

When credible fear is not established

If an asylum officer does not find that the individual has a credible fear of persecution or torture, the person will fail their credible fear interview. The individual will have one chance to present their case before an Immigration judge to review the negative credible fear interview decision. This process is called a credible fear redetermination hearing. The attorneys at Santos Khoury frequently represent clients that have failed their initial credible fear screening but have had them overturned by the immigration judge. This is because asylum officers aren’t attorneys and often don’t ask the right questions to the individual. Often times, the asylum officers don’t understand the intricacies of eligibility for asylum. If they do not request a review by the Immigration Judge, the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) may remove or deport the person from the United States.

Credible Fear Interview

In U.S. asylum laws, credible fear is a concept when the individual has to show there is no place to be safe in the home country and that the police in the country are unable or unwilling to help. For decades, asylum seekers have established credible fear by meeting with an asylum officer, who determines whether or not the applicant qualifies under any officially recognized fears. These interviews can last anywhere from 30 minutes to a full day. Individuals in this process may be represented by an attorney at no expense to the government. An attorney can speak with the individual prior to the interview so that the person knows what to expect.
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What should you do if you are an asylum seeker who does not have documents and wants to enter the USA legally?

If you are an asylum seeker who does not have documents and wants to enter the USA legally, you can do a few things.

Be ready for the initial conversations

As you can see, you will initially contact U.S. Customs and Border Protection, who hold significant discretionary powers over whether the individual expresses fear of returning or not.

Their decisions can impact when and how individuals make their credible fear claim as they enter different processes for removal from the United States.

Thus, preparing well for the initial conversations with U.S. officials at different times is vital.

Be well prepared for interviews

Prepare well for your interview with U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) by practicing your story and gathering any supporting documentation.

You can research the requirements for asylum and gather any evidence or documentation that may be helpful in your case.

At your interview, the asylum officer will ask you to describe:

  • Any experiences of persecution, torture or other harm that you experienced in the past
  • Why you fear you will be persecuted or tortured in the future
  • Whom you fear
  • Whether you have had any other experiences (in any country, including the United States) that may place you at risk of persecution or torture.

Additionally, the asylum office is required to make sure that the harm you fear shares a “nexus” with your claim.

You may have reasons why you were forced to leave your home country and seek safety elsewhere, and you must show that convincingly and support your story with proper evidence.

For example, Muslims have become a persecuted minority in India. If you are part of a Muslim community living in a disputed region of your home country, let’s say India.

There is communal violence, injuring members of your group, and the state failed to take the necessary measures to prevent the acts and effectively investigate and prosecute them.

You can argue that your religion is why your state doesn’t protect you and why you are under threat.

As evidence, you may collect new articles and letters from friends or relatives.

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Consult an attorney experienced in the credible fear interview process


This article provides a general overview of the process. Individual cases may vary. Look for the best immigration attorney in the U.S. or an organization to help you with your case.


Getting asylum after entering without documents at the POE or border can be more complex, and thus, getting help from the best immigration attorney will significantly increase your chance you granting asylum in the U.S.


Our asylum attorneys have helped clients at the border get asylum. We have filed hundreds of successful affirmative applications and, in some cases, avoided court altogether.




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