Cubans’ Credible Fear Interviews on the US Border: Q&A

Migrants waiting to be processed by immigration officers.  Photo: Ringo Chiu/Shutterstock.

Here we’ve tried to answer some of the most frequent questions about the credible fear interview.

By El Toque

HAVANA TIMES – Cuban officials recently confirmed that deportation flights carrying Cubans without elegible asylum petitions, will resume from the southern US border in the coming days. Here we’ve tried to answer some of the most frequent questions about the credible fear interview, as a Q&A, which might help to decide whether a migrant is repatriated or is the start of an asylum process in the US.

What is credible fear?

Credible fear is a filter to determine whether the case is a matter of persecution. This procedure at the beginning of the asylum process on the US border consists of an interview in which the migrant needs to explain why they aren’t able to return to their home country. Credible fear of persecution is the “significant possibility” that a person must prove, in an interview before an asylum officer or Immigration Judge, that they have been persecuted or has a well-founded fear of persecution or harm on account of his or her race, religion, nationality, membership in a particular social group, or political opinion if returned to his or her country. Economic hardship, a lack of financial means, unemployment, professional limitations or poverty in the home country are not reasons that prove credible fear to Immigration authorities.

2. What kind of evidence do you need to show?

Testimony is the first form of evidence. It’s important to present very specific events that prove repression and danger of persecution, as well as detailed facts (repressors’ names, dates of summons, conditions of arrest, harassment, physical or psychological violence.

The second form of evidence is documentary, which might include summons to an interrogation, police reports (if you reported an incident to the police), medical records (if you were injured and treated at a hospital or doctors’ office), letters from people who can support your request, photos that help to prove your story, newspaper articles about the events that make you afraid to return to your country, reports from national and international human rights organizations (Human Rights Watch or Amnesty International). Photos, voice recordings, voice messages with threats against the asylum-seeker can also be used, as well as articles and news that document events linked to the case.

Normally, asylum-seekers don’t have these documents or materials to support their stories when they reach the US border. However, they need to really make an effort and gather this proof to support their allegations. It’s also essential to give a convincing and persuasive testimony in the absence of material proof. Many lawyers recommend asylum-seekers keep detailed notes about the experiences they talk about and their fear of returning. This will help them to remember dates and be coherent every time they tell their story.

3. What can’t go to a credible fear interview?

People who won’t be able to prove credible fear are people who were persecuted for other reasons that weren’t on account of his or her race, religion, nationality, membership in a particular social group, or political opinion; have been convicted of a serious felony or have been involved in terrorist activity. This procedure is also denied to people who have lived in another country, as citizens or residents, for a long period of time. According to US Immigration authorities, this also includes anyone who may pose a threat or are a potential danger to US national security.

4. How are migrants selected for the interview?

Recent testimonies from migrants who have been to one of these interviews on the US’ southern border reveal that the selection process is random. There aren’t specific criteria that tell you who will be chosen for a credible fear interview or not.

5. How does the interview take place on the southern US border?

If the person says their intention is to seek asylum, they are afraid of persecution or torture, or are afraid to return to their country, they need to provide information in the credible fear interview. After you reach a detention center, the waiting time for this interview is 48 hours. But you also have the choice of foregoing this waiting period.

In the credible fear interview, US authorities normally ask about your home country, the reason for your departure and the reason you’re afraid to return to your country. A person’s testimony is the most important thing, as you don’t need to provide material proof about what you say. US Immigration authorities and its diplomatic services know what is happening in every country, so migrant statements need to agree with the information US authorities have about their countries of origin.

6. What questions do US Immigration officials normally ask?

Some of the key questions asked are: Why have you come to the US? Do you have family expecting you? Would you go back to Cuba? Are you afraid to go back to your country? The first questions are exploratory to try and get a general idea about the person’s life. Answering clearly and in detail is the most important thing people who have done the credible interview say, as well as the reasons used to say it wouldn’t be in the migrant’s best interests to return.

7. What happens to migrants who don’t pass this interview?

“If an asylum officer finds you do not have a credible fear of persecution or torture, you can request review by an Immigration Judge. If you do not request a review of the negative determination, or if an Immigration Judge affirms the negative credible fear determination, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) may remove you from the United States. Generally, there is no review of the IJ’s determination that you do not have a credible fear of persecution or torture,” ICE’s website reads.

US authorities normally issue an immediate order for deportation of anyone who doesn’t pass the credible fear interview. That is to say, they aren’t allowed to seek asylum in freedom. They are allowed to apply, but once a decision has been made, they are deported. This is a common practice, but it doesn’t mean to say that this is always the case. Recently, there have been accounts of Cubans who have been released on parole after passing the credible fear interview.

8. What happens after the interview?

In the days following the interview, the Immigration officer will decide whether the migrant’s fear is credible or reasonable and whether they can seek asylum before an Immigration Judge. The officer will write a summary of what was said in the interview and will send this with their decision. For this reason, it’s extremely important the migrant corrects themself if they think they have been misunderstood. If you pass the interview, it doesn’t mean you’ve won the case. It just means you will be allowed to begin the asylum-seeking process.

9. How do you locate people arrested by ICE?

The Online Detainee Locator System (ODLS) is a public system available online via the link: It allows you to locate people who have been detained by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). Nevertheless, persons under the age of 18 are not registered on the website. It can take over 24 hours for a detainee’s information to appear online, sometimes. Even so, it’s the most reliable tool available to get this information. There are two ways to locate a person. The first requires the migrant’s alien number and country of birth. The second is a biographical search which requires the detainee’s full name and date of birth.

10. When will the first deportation flights carrying Cubans begin?

A report from EFE news agency revealed that discussions about repatriation flights have already concluded. According to the General Deputy Director of US affairs at the Cuban Foreign Ministry, Johana Tablada, this is a “done deal” and says they are waiting for the “flight proposal and date” from Washington. When the US provides the list of people they want to repatriate, Cuba will just need to “check” whether deportees “fall into the categories” agreed by both countries in 2017, which they will need “a few days” for, the Cuban official explained. A week ago, Cuba’s deputy-minister of Foreign Relations, Carlos Fernandez de Cossio, said that both Governments hope that repatriation flights are “quite regular”. In October alone, 29,872 Cubans were intercepted on the southern US border, according to US Customs and Border Protection.

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