On Monday, June 4, 2018, Ethan Taubes, a former asylum officer at the Newark Asylum Office, spoke to RIF Asylum Support community members about the asylum process, the Asylum Corps, preparing the asylum application, and the asylum interview. Mr. Taubes also answered general questions from audience members after his talk. We were fortunate enough to have been invited to this special event and we are sharing with our readers and clients our notes and tips from Mr. Taubes.
Meet Mr. Taubes
Mr. Ethan Taubes served as an asylum officer and supervisor at the Newark Asylum in Lyndhurst, NJ for over 20 years. As part of his duties, Mr. Taubes also provided asylum training to many attorneys during his career with the Asylum Corps. Prior to working for the Asylum Corps, Mr. Taubes was a staff attorney for many years at Lutheran Legal Services, part of the New York Legal Assistance Group (NYLAG). Mr. Taubes's parents are both European immigrants who came to the United States after World War II to escape violence and persecution, so he personally understands the predicament many immigrants are experiencing as they seek to build new lives in the United States. With his talk, Mr. Taube wants to demystify the process and wants to assure asylum applicants and refugees that the asylum relief is separate from the political process, despite the current unpredictable and seemingly-hostile landscape.
Asylum Officers and the Asylum Process
Asylum officers belong to a special cadre of officers, called Asylum Officer Corps who are specially trained in refugee and human rights law, who are responsible for conducting in-depth interviews of individuals who apply for the particular form of refugee protection known as “asylum.”
These officers, according to Mr. Taubes, are trained to look at special considerations to determine an applicant's eligibility for asylum. Mr. Taubes described the asylum process as a "truth-seeking," non-adversarial process, where the asylum officer is not allowed to cross-examine the asylum applicant during the interview. The asylum applicant has the burden of proving his case to the asylum officer and the burden of producing the evidence of his claim. The officer's job is to ask questions and review your application to determine the applicant's eligibility for asylum. They may ask follow-up questions to clarify any confusion and they must notify the applicant at the time of the interview if they have reservations about the case or if they think there is a problem with the application.
An asylum officer is also trained to look at factors that might exclude people from qualifying for asylum. There are a lot of preparer fraud, impostors, human rights violators/persecutors, and other bad actors who want to take advantage of this benefit. The officer's job is to ferret out fraud and look out for national security concerns.
The Asylum Interview and Confidentiality
Each day, asylum officers have to conduct two asylum interviews with applicants coming from over 100 countries. They are under a lot of pressure and typically have only two days to review a case, process background checks, and conduct research prior to an interview. During the interview, the asylum officer will first verify the information submitted on the applicant's I-589 and then conduct a thorough interview in order to establish the applicant's asylum eligibility.
Applicants may bring their own interpreter to assist them during the interview. Mr. Taubes recommends bringing a competent interpreter who is trustworthy, who thoroughly understands the applicant and someone who is fluent in both English and the applicant's language. As Mr. Taubes described, this person is the applicant's "mouthpiece," and this must be someone that the applicant trusts fully to competently and accurately assist in the asylum interview.
Applicants with interpreters have another "safety-net." Monitors are asylum office staff members who speak the applicant's language or dialect and attend the interview via teleconference. Their job is to ensure that there are no misunderstandings and that the interpreter is doing a word-for-word translation.
According to Mr. Taubes, if the asylum officer asks a lot of follow up questions, the applicant should not be nervous or anxious. The asylum officer is trying to get to the truth, so the applicant should welcome the questions as a tool for the officer to understand the applicant's story, the context, and verify the applicant's identity and credibility.
Mr. Taubes also reassured applicants that the whole process is there to protect the confidentiality of the applicant. Asylum officers want to make sure that you feel safe and protected in telling your story. According to Mr. Taubes, one of the rules of engagement is that they are bound by confidentiality, which means that they are not allowed to reveal information to others, except for government agencies responsible for processing the applicant's case.
Mr. Taubes also spoke about some tips on how best to prepare the asylum application and answered general questions from the audience. Please follow this link to part two of this blog post: Asylum Interview and Application Tips & FAQ from a Former Asylum Officer.
Rasoulpour Torregoza is the law firm for immigrants, by immigrants. We are founded on the motto of LegalEase: we do away with the legal jargon and make law easy to understand, so you can focus on what’s important to you – going for your American Dream.
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