Inside a HEFAT Kidnapping Scenario

As a writer and journalist, I think a lot about language.

How do the words we use tell a story? How do they change a story? And what kind of responsibility do we have in choosing our words as storytellers to our sources and our audiences?

Prior to the fellowship I’d produced stories about how the language and terminology we use as journalists matter. Semantics, again, plays a large role in one of the stories my reporting partner and I worked on during the 2019 Adelante program in Honduras.

I’ve always been struck by the term “credible fear”, a concept that plays a large role in the process of seeking asylum in the United States. In short, in order to be granted asylum, seekers have to establish “credible fear” during an interview process.

But what is “credible fear”? Where does that term come from and whom does it serve? And most significantly, how do you prove it – and by what standards?

These questions were the force behind one of our story pitches. My reporting partner and I asked our sources throughout Honduras about the concept and understanding of “credible fear” in the asylum process, and we often found it wasn’t a term commonly used.

“That’s entirely a U.S. concept”, one source said to us.

In addition, nearly everyone we spoke to had little idea about what is actually needed to establish “credible fear”. A few sources had ideas for what “may or may not” help prove it, but had no real sense of what worked and what didn’t.

It leads me to think: How do you prove a concept without knowing what that concept is?

If “credible fear” is entirely a U.S. concept – and one that keeps changing under the current U.S. administration – what does that mean for the people trying to establish it? That’s what we’re continuing to work on as a result of the opportunity granted to us by IWMF.

– Kyana Moghadam, 2019 IWMF Honduras Fellow