I went to law school hoping to help people, and the first asylum case I worked on as a law clerk truly felt like an opportunity to save someone's life. I dove into the law head-first, read as much as I could and decided immediately upon leaving law school that I wanted to practice asylum law. But what was not taught in law school was how often people engage in fraud in this process. This can range from what may be considered relatively minor (exaggerating the number of times one was beaten up, for example) to very extreme (like concocting an entire story or fake documents out of whole cloth). Even people who might have had a legitimate asylum claim to start with at times completely ruin their case by either adding on to their story or creating fake documents to help try to "spice up" their claim.
As attorneys, we must be vigilant in trying to avoid fraud in the asylum process. This is because when our clients are telling the truth, we need the DHS and the Immigration Judges to believe them. An Immigration Judge who sees rampant fraud in asylum applications over and over again is less likely to give a fair shot to the applicant who is genuine. We also have an ethical duty to not assist our clients in fraudulent applications.
Although the attorneys in P-S-H- were actually convicted of asylum fraud, here are two examples of conduct in that case that every asylum attorney should take note of:
- In P-S-H- the applicant received two affidavits from individuals in India that had identical wording. The attorney told the applicant to "obtain another affidavit from one of the individuals because it had 'to be worded differently.'" As an attorney, if you receive evidence from your client that looks suspicious, you must follow up. But the solution is not to just cover up the conspicuous parts. You must have a frank discussion with your client about why they have two affidavits with identical wording. There could be an innocent explanation, but it may also be a sign that their claim is not legitimate.
- Another statement from a witness in P-S-H- said the individual had stayed for a month in the same hospital as the applicant, but the DHS determined the hospital only permitted overnight stays. An asylum attorney will not always know the hours of a hospital in India, but the client here should have known. Friends and family sometimes unilaterally try to bolster a person's asylum claim by adding details. When you receive documents from your client's friends and family, you must grill your client about the details.