I am an immigration attorney in Seattle and asylum cases are some of the most rewarding cases I have ever had the privilege of taking. Clients that file affirmative asylum applications (they are in the U.S. but are not already in removal proceedings) are always very nervous and sometimes downright terrified of the asylum interview, which is conducted by an asylum officer after you file the asylum application. It's understandable that an asylum applicant would be scared, but there are a few things I tell my clients that I think help get them through the experience with less anxiety and more confidence.
First, you have to remember that the asylum officer does not have the power to deny your asylum application. (If you already have legal status in the U.S. then this is not true, but there is a procedure before the officer can deny the application.) The officer can only grant your application or refer it the Immigration Court, where an Immigration Judge will independently review the application and is under no obligation to follow any findings of the asylum officer.
Second, if there is any time to show your emotions and access the trauma that you have doubtless experienced and on which your asylum claim is based, the interview is the place to do it. After all, the main purpose of the interview is to test your credibility. It can hardly hurt to show your emotional reactions to the persecution you suffered. The asylum officers are professionals; remember, it's their job to conduct these interviews. There is not much that they have not seen before.
Third, the best thing you can do to increase the likelihood that the interview will go smoothly is to practice. Read and re-read your declaration and supporting documents. Preferably, you will be working with an experienced immigration attorney who will conduct a mock interview with you, so you can practice your responses. If you are not working with a Seattle immigration attorney or other representative, if you have a trusted friend or family member with whom you are willing to share your declaration, have him or her read it and drill you about the events. You should expect detailed questions on how and why you came to the U.S. and why you are unwilling or unable to return to your home country, but the focus will of course be on the persecution and events surrounding the persecution-who, what, where, when, and why. You should expect the officer to sometimes ask the same questions again at different times and phrased differently, in order to test your consistency.
I tell my clients to expect the interview to go smoothly, but be prepared for anything, which is why there is no substitute for doing a practice interview, at least once.
*Nothing in this article should be construed as legal advice; this article only contains legal information. Consult with an experienced immigration attorney for advice on your particular circumstances.