I recently prepared an asylum case for a married lesbian woman. The case was complicated by the fact that my client had multiple nationalities, and I was concerned about one country where she held citizenship, and where conditions were less bad for LGBT people (at least when compared with her other countries of nationality). My focus was on gathering evidence about country conditions to support her claim, and I forgot to look at another key aspect of the case--my client's wife had a pending asylum application of her own.

As these things often go, I was reviewing the case prior to the Immigration Court hearing when I noticed the issue. I spoke to my client and learned that the wife's case included information that would have been helpful for my client's case. So now I had a dilemma: Should we amend our case at the last minute and risk harming my client's credibility (when she tried to explain the change) or say nothing and forgo the opportunity to include helpful evidence?

To add to our difficulty, my client's wife was listed as a witness in our case and we completed a form allowing DHS to access her asylum application. What if DHS (the prosecutor) obtained a copy of the wife's case, saw the evidence we left out, and then attacked our credibility for failing to include this information?

Once I realized our omission, we had to decide what to do. Whatever our decision, I knew there would be risks.

Before we look a little closer at my case, I think it is important to know that mistakes like this are common. Asylum cases are complicated and contain many moving parts: The client's story (which they may or may not remember accurately), witness letters, family documents, school and work records, police and medical reports, country condition evidence, legal issues, etc., etc. Also, no lawyer works in a vacuum. Most of us have many clients, not to mention families and other obligations. What's more, you may be surprised to learn that lawyers are human beings, and human beings make mistakes--especially when they are working under pressure and have limited time to spend on each case.

Despite the obstacles, we do our best not to make mistakes. But at least in my experience, occasional mistakes are inevitable, and it is important to know how to deal with them.

In the case of the married lesbian, we (my client, her wife, and I) discussed the situation and decided not to amend her application. Ultimately, it seemed that the benefit of the additional evidence was not worth the risk to credibility inherent in making a last minute change. We also discussed how my client and her wife would respond if DHS asked about the missing evidence. With this plan in place, we went to court.

In the end, our preparation on this point was probably overkill. Before we started, DHS indicated that they only had a few questions and that they did not expect to contest the case. The judge also began the hearing by indicating that she felt the case was strong. Once we got started, testimony was brief and everyone agreed that my client should receive asylum. I was glad for the happy ending, but I wasn't thrilled by my rookie mistake and I resolved to be more careful.

In dealing with the mistake in our case, we made the "right" decision, in the sense that we got the result we wanted. But each situation is different and there is no one-size-fits-all solution to correcting errors. That said, there are a few points worth mentioning.

First, our case--and any case--is helped by including sufficient evidence. We had a lot of evidence that my client and her wife were married and had been together for years. We also had significant country condition evidence showing that gay people could not live safely in any of her countries of nationality--and that would be doubly true for a married couple. If your case is well-supported by other evidence, you will be more likely to overcome any mistakes.

Second, we discussed the problem in advance. There is a tendency among lawyers (and humans) to ignore mistakes. I was tempted to do that in my case. I thought it was unlikely that DHS would discover the omission, and even if they did, they might not care. Also, I knew we had submitted strong evidence and I was pretty sure we could win the case even if our error came to light. That said, lawyers have a duty to our clients, and having discovered the error, I had a duty to tell my client, and so I did.

Finally, having told the client about the error, we prepared her and her wife to respond in the event that the omission came up in court. It is always important to think about problematic issues prior to the court date, particularly where there are errors or inconsistencies in the record. When you prepare in advance, you can better respond to difficult questions. In this sense, ignoring problems can be dangerous, as it sets you up for failure.

It's obviously a good idea to do your best to avoid mistakes when preparing an asylum case, but sometimes, mistakes happen. If the case is otherwise well supported, and you make a plan to deal with any errors that come to light, you can mitigate the damage and increase the likelihood for a good outcome.

Originally posted on the Asylumist: www.Asylumist.com