Lessons Learned From Department of State "Profiles" of Asylum Applications


In response to a Freedom of Information lawsuit, I obtained 15 Department of State “Profiles.”

A “Profile” is different from a “Country Report on Human Rights Practices.” Every year, the State Department writes, and publishes “Country Reports on Human Rights Practices” for almost every country in the world. These reports are announced with great fanfare, and are easily available on the internet. A “Profile,” on the other hand, is a report written somewhat randomly and intermittently. Apparently, the State Department wrote 15 Country Profiles between the years 2000 to 2008. No Profiles have been written after 2008. Therefore, the 15 Profiles I obtained are now somewhat dated.

There was great variety in these reports. For example, the Profile on Pakistan was three pages long, and mentioned nothing about fraud; the Profile on Togo was eleven pages long, and included a list of 11 questions to be asked of asylum applicants to help determine if the case was genuine. Lessons can be learned from these reports. What factors impress the State Department official? Where is fraud to be found? What follows are questions you should ask your asylum-seeking clients, gleaned from reading the 15 Profiles.

  1. Did you come to the United States just to earn more money and to improve your standard of living?
  2. What does the Constitution of your country say?

This was mentioned in many of the Profiles. This seems odd to me: there is no real “rule of law” in most refugee-producing countries; why is this mentioned? However, if the State Department feels this is relevant, the advocate should inquire.

  1. How often does the judiciary rule against the government? Are you aware of any court in your country that ever ruled against the executive branch?
  2. Does the government restrict international travel of dissidents?
  3. Does the government restrict internal travel of dissidents?
  4. Do opposition parties have their own newspapers? Are such newspapers ever shut down?
  5. Do political parties hand out membership cards freely, to persons who are not members?
  6. If a doctor writes a medical certificate, are there any records to support it?
  7. Does your government monitor activities of dissidents and protestors in the United States?
  8. What happens to a dissident who comes to the United States, and then returns: is he imprisoned?
  9. What does Amnesty International report?
  10. How many ethnic groups are there in the country? Is there a “ruling” ethnic group?
  11. Has one ethnic group suffered something disproportionately?
  12. How does your government spend its money? 40% on military, and 1% on health?

Does your political party have a platform position on this?

  1. What languages do you speak? The same as your spouse? What languages are spoken in different parts of your country? Does this affect the possibility of internal relocation?
  1. How much fraud has the U.S. Embassy in your country discovered recently?

The Profile for Togo states that there was a “25%” fraud rate, concerning “family” relationships. The US Embassy in Lome found fraud in 30% of political memberships; 90% of medical attestations; and in 80% of police documents.

The Profile for Cameroon states that the Embassy there has identified fake and invalid: membership cards; newspaper articles; letters from fake doctors; fake arrest documents signed by actual police officials; photos of supposed prisoners in jail with police officers present; and false affidavits from attorneys and bailiffs. “State Department officials in Yaounde have observed vendors openly advertising to prepare U.S. asylum claims for successful nonimmigrant visa applicants.” Some newspapers accept paid placement of articles. Many beneficiaries admitted lying when asked for a DNA test.

The Profile for China states that documents from Fujian Province are subject to widespread fabrication and fraud. During one time period, of 61 documents examined, 38 were fraudulent and 6 were dubious.

The Profile for Guinea had a separate section, entitled Patterns in fraudulent asylum claims.

There is “high” fraud here. Fraud by Ministry of Foreign Affairs is common; they issue documents for cash. The government will issue a birth or marriage certificate to whoever asks.

There are several photo-substituted passports, false marriages, and “fraud is rampant.”

60% of DNA tests show fraud. “Employment records often show the applicant was at work during a period of claimed imprisonment.”

The Profile for Ethiopia states that many Ethiopians living in the United States help, and encourage, fake asylum claims, often unsolicited. “Documents that appear to be out of the ordinary, such as hospital letters describing illness or police letters stating details of an arrest, should be considered suspect.”

The Profile for Burma states that the country is “one giant village where everyone knows each other;” an arrival of someone from abroad would soon be known by everyone in the village. There is widespread fabrication-in part due to low official salaries. Churches issue fake documents at times. In a sample of Chin follow-to- join cases, only one in four marriages was legitimate. “This fraud, using both official and non-governmental documents, has been established by the United States consular officers in Burma.”

The Profile for China states that “some asylum applicants have admitted that smugglers instructed them to claim belief in Christianity,” and that some Falun Gong adherents later admitted their stories had been concocted by smugglers.

  1. Were you really a member of your political party in your country?

The Profile for Togo states that the largest opposition party is the UFC, and suggests these questions:

1] Who is current Secretary General of the UFC?

2] Who is the leader of the UFC?

3] What is the UFC symbol and what are the colors?

4] How many seats belong to the UFC in the current National Assembly?

5] Who signed the global accord as a representative of the UFC in August 2006?

6] Where was this accord signed?

7] When were the most recent legislative elections held in Togo?

8] How many seats were won by the CAR (the 2d largest opposition party) in this election?

9] Who are the three vice-presidents of the UFC?

10] Where is the headquarters of the UFC located? What is the address?

11] How many seats did the UFC win the Tchaoudjo prefecture? In the Tone prefecture?

The Profile for Cameroon suggests these questions to distinguish bona fide SCNC members from impostors:

How many members does SCNC have?

Where do most of them live? How many in Cameroon, and how many in the United States?

How many coordinators does the SCNC have and what areas do they cover?

Who is the leader of the Northern Zone chair?

Who is the Southern Zone Chair?

Who is the national chairman of the SCNC?

What is the address of the SCNC headquarters in Bamenda?

What is the SCNC motto?

In 2007 a group of SCNC members were arrested. Where were they arrested? What happened to them?


The authors of the Profiles acknowledge that in some countries, evil dictators torture and murder. However, the authors frequently note that people often admit fraud. There is a weary tone of cynicism and contempt in some of the Profiles. The lawyer should ask his client: What is your opinion of these Profiles? What can you do to assuage the fears of fraud expressed in these reports?

Reprinted with permission.

About The Author

David L. Cleveland. David L. Cleveland, a staff attorney at Catholic Charities of Washington, DC, was Chair of the AILA Asylum Committee (2004-05) and has secured asylum or withholding for people from 46 countries.

The opinions expressed in this article do not necessarily reflect the opinion of ILW.COM.