A poet once said, "It's not how you feel; it's how you look. And you look mah-velous!"

What does this gentle wisdom have to do with asylum cases? Simply this: Whether you have a strong case or a weak case, if you present your case in an organized and neat fashion (i.e., if you make it look marvelous), you are more likely to be granted relief.

How do I know this is true? I really don't. I just made it up. But it seems true. Plus, I have talked to Asylum Officers and Immigration Judges, and I know they sometimes become frustrated with disorganized applications. Also, it makes sense--if you make the decider's job easier, you are more apt to get a good decision. So how should an asylum application look?

The first thing to know is that there are different rules for the Asylum Office and the Immigration Court. The Asylum Office rules are more lenient. When we prepare evidence for the Asylum Office, we basically follow the Immigration Court rules. In this way, we are prepared in the event that the case goes to Court. Also, the Court rules provide good guidance for how to organize a packet of documents.

First, let's talk about Asylum Office cases. For such cases, we include a cover letter. This letter is short, and simply explains what type of application we are filing. If there are any issues of particular note, we might mention those in the cover letter--for example a one year bar issue, a criminal conviction or a prior asylum application.

Next, we include the packet of documents. We do not send any original documents; we submit copies (we have the client bring any originals to the interview). We also keep a copy of the entire packet for ourselves. Per Asylum Office rules, we submit two copies of the entire packet of documents. Each page of the packet is numbered. I put the numbers in the bottom center of each piece of paper. Also, each individual exhibit is labeled with a letter (Exhibit A, Exhibit B, etc.). In front of each exhibit is a separate page with a tab (A, B, C, etc.). If the packet of exhibits is tabbed and paginated, it is easy for the officer to find what she needs.

On top of the packet of exhibits, we include an index. The index lists each exhibit by letter and page number. I also include a brief description of each exhibit, so that the officer can read my summary, rather than a (sometimes) lengthy document. An abridged example of how we do the index is here: Example Index

The exhibits we typically submit, aside from the original I-589 form, include copies of: All passports, the applicant's affidavit, birth certificate, marriage certificate(s), divorce documents, national ID cards, identity documents for spouse and children (passports, birth certificates, national ID cards), education documents (diplomas, transcripts, awards), employment documents, any criminal or arrest documents (from the U.S. or overseas), police reports, medical reports (including forensics reports about scars or psychological trauma), membership documents for political, religious or other organizations, letters from witnesses, threat letters or evidence of threats, relevant photos (of political activities, injuries, etc.), relevant news articles, and country and human rights reports. Any documents not in English need to be translated with a certificate of translation. Of course, the documents we submit vary, depending on the case and what we need to prove. But the format is always the same.

Also, it is a good idea to submit the exhibits on time. These days, under LIFO, we usually complete the entire case and submit everything together with the I-589 application (since we often-times receive a quick interview date). However, if you are submitting documents after the case has already been filed, make sure your Alien number is on the cover page and the index, and make sure everything is submitted on time. Some asylum offices want your exhibits at least one week prior to the interview. You can contact the local asylum office to ask about the filing rules.

If you have a case in Immigration Court, the rules are more strict. First of all, you need to submit one copy of everything to the Court and one copy to the DHS Office of the Chief Counsel (the prosecutor). Second, you need to follow the rules related format, which you can find in the Immigration Court Practice Manual (follow the link called "OCIJ Practice Manuel;" chapter 3 and appendices F and G are particularly useful for format). Also, you need to submit a witness list (check chapter 3 of the Practice Manuel, page 57-58). The list of exhibits will look similar to what I described above for the Asylum Office index. For non-lawyers, this is all a bit much, and for this reason, if you have a case before the Immigration Court, you would do well to find an attorney to assist you (if you cannot afford a lawyer, you might be able to find one for free).

One last tip: If possible, submit all documents by hand (and bring your copy of the exhibits so the Asylum Office or Court can stamp it with a proof of service) or by certified mail. It is common for evidence to get lost, and so it is a good idea to have proof that you submitted the evidence.

Whether your case is before the Asylum Office or the Immigration Court, it will benefit you to submit a neat, well-organized packet of evidence. And by the way, darling, you look mah-velous!

Originally posted on the Asylumist: www.Asylumist.com.