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Saturday, August 22, 2015

What happens at a credible fear hearing before an immigration judge?

Credible fear hearings refer to the process of an immigration officer or judge reviewing the statements of an individual who is seeking asylum in the United States. Generally, these hearings are first conducted at the port of entry by a custom and border protection (CBP) agent, or an immigration and custom enforcement officer (ICE). Based on the determination of the CBP/ICE officer, an initial credible fear determination is made. If a credible fear of return to the asylum seekers who country is established with the officers, generally the individual is permitted to enter the United States and remain at large until their hearing is conducted before a judge on the merits of the asylum application.

However, if the CBP/ICE officer determines that there is no credible fear of returning to the asylum seekers who country, the asylum seeker is detained. At this point he/she may request a judge to review the CBP/ICS determination. This review process is called a "credible fear hearing" and is conducting before an immigration judge. A couple of pointers to remember:

  • A credible fear hearing must be requested, it is not automatic.
  • Your client will be detained for the entire pendency of the credible fear hearing process, and likely thereafter.
  • Only ICE has jurisdiction to release your client during or after a credible fear hearing, not the immigration court or judge.


The law on the matter is contained in 8 CFR:
Credible fear standard: A Credible fear of persecution means that there is a significant possibility that the alien can establish eligibility for asylum under INA § 208 or withholding of removal (restriction on removal) under INA § 241(b)(3). The credibility of the alien statements in support of the claim, and other facts known to the reviewing official, are taken into account. 8 C.F.R. §§ 208.30(e)(2), 1003.42(d).

Credible fear of torture: means there is a significant possibility that the alien is eligible for withholding of removal (restriction on removal) or deferral of removal under the Convention Against Torture pursuant to 8 C.F.R. §§ 208.16 or 208.17. 8 C.F.R. §§ 208.30(e)(3), 1003.42(d).

[taken from the "EOIR Immigration Judges Handbook"]

How does a credible fear hearing work?

First, you don’t submit evidence at a credible fear hearing – in fact, the judge may not even speak to you as the attorney on the case. You are an observer of the process only – this is a conversation between the judge and your client. On a practical note, usually the judge will speak to you and ask you what is going on. It’s faster and easier that way. But don’t be alarmed if the judge completely ignores you. Take good notes!

Representation: Prior to the credible fear review, the alien may consult with a person or persons of the alien's choosing. In the discretion of the Immigration Judge, persons consulted may be present during the credible fear review. However, the alien is not represented at the credible fear review. Accordingly, persons acting on the alien's behalf are not entitled to make opening statements, call and question witnesses, conduct cross examinations, object to evidence, or make closing arguments.

[taken from the "EOIR Immigration Judges Handbook"; See generally INA 235(b)(1)(B), 8 CFR 1003.42]


You need to prepare your client thoroughly. The client will be able to speak to the judge and will be able to testify. The discussion will be about the credible fear interview itself. The judge will ask things like: why are there inconsistent answers, etc. He/She will be using all the CBP/ICE forms, so be sure that you have a copy of the credible fear interview and each step of what your client did and said. Your client should have been given a copy of that. If there are translation issues (as there often are; most translation for the initial credible fear at the port of entry is done over the phone), be sure to brief your client on bringing that up to the judge.

Conduct of hearing: A credible fear review is not as exhaustive or in-depth as an asylum hearing in removal proceedings. Rather, a credible fear review is simply a review of the DHS asylum officer's decision. Either the alien or DHS may introduce oral or written statements, and the court provides an interpreter if necessary. Evidence may be introduced at the discretion of the Immigration Judge. The hearing is recorded. Parties should be mindful that all requests for continuances are subject to the statutory time limits.

[taken from the "EOIR Immigration Judges Handbook"]


If the judge finds credible fear, that he/she will set a next status date (called a master calendar hearing) at which point you will turn in the I-589 and supporting initial docs. Thereafter, it proceeds according to a regular defensive asylum process.

Technically, the judge cannot release your client, as she is deemed an arriving alien, not subject to parole from the court. There are two general rules here… in some jurisdictions, such as York, and sometimes Arlington, the judge will give bond anyway, and DHS rarely objects. That is technically a violation of the code. If the judge does not (and do not be alarmed if that happens…he/she should NOT do so), you can file to have ICE give a bond. In many jurisdictions, ICE will release your client once a credible fear determination I positive. Bond usually runs about $5K. Be sure to submit a bond package, showing where your client will live and with whom, when asking ICE for a bond. It is entirely up to the DO (deportation officer) in charge of your client.

No jurisdiction by regulation: By regulation, an Immigration Judge does not have jurisdiction to conduct bond hearings involving:
  • aliens in exclusion proceedings
  • arriving aliens in removal proceedings
  • aliens ineligible for release on security or related grounds
  • aliens ineligible for release on certain criminal grounds


An asylum seeker who requests asylum at a port of entry is an arriving alien.

See: 8 CFR 1003.19(h)(2)(i)


Is there an appeal if the credible fear is denied by the judge?

No right to appeal, however, generally, you can bring a request for DHS to give one final review before deporting your client. See 8 CFR 1208.30(g)(2)(iv)(A).

Do you have a question regarding immigration law or detention hearings? Give us a call! We can help --- 1-800-579-9864 or admin@hanoverlawpc.com.

Hanover Law, PC
Offices in Fairfax, VA and Washington, DC
www.hanoverlawpc.com Lili O'connell, Esq.
888 16th St., NW Ste 800
Washington, DC 20006
2751 Prosperity Ave, Ste 150
Fairfax, VA 22031
Sean R. Hanover, Esq.
Stephen Salwierak, Esq.
1-800-579-9864 admin@hanoverlawpc.com Charles Hatley, Esq.

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