Thursday, February 25, 2010

How a Psychological Evaluation May Help an Immigration Case

By Kathleen Lord-Black, U.S. Immigration Lawyer

When filing for certain immigration benefits, and when defending oneself from deportation in a case that is pending before an Immigration Judge, a good psychologist can make a great deal of difference.

The kind of psychologist you will need is specially qualified psychologist who has been specially trained to write psychological evaluations. A family and marriage counselor, in general, is not qualified to be a psychological evaluator. An evaluator needs special schooling and experience, and must present these credentials to the Immigration Service or the Immigration Judge in order for his/her evaluation to be accepted as evidence.

Once the evaluator has been proven to be qualified to perform psychological evaluations, the evaluation itself will be accepted for consideration in order to prove any of several issues (discussed below).

For instance, in political asylum cases, it is often the case that the asylum-seeker has been subjected to terrible abuse and mistreatment in his/her home country. As a result, the asylum-seeker has probably developed psychological problems, including depressive disorders and/or a post-traumatic stress disorder. Some of these disorders can interfere with the asylee's ability to file a political asylum claim within one year of his/her entry into the United States, as required by law. A good psychological evaluation by a qualified psychological evaluator can be presented along with the asylum application as evidence that psychological problems interfered with the filing of a timely political asylum claim. In asylum cases, the psychological evaluator must also assess whether the asylum-seeker continues to suffer from psychological symptoms after arriving in the U.S. The psychological evaluator's report should make recommendations for treatment, as well as point out the individual's specific psychological problems.

A good psychological evaluation by a qualified psychological evaluator can make a great deal of difference in certain citizenship cases, too. Applicants for citizenship, unless excused, must be able to pass examinations in United States history, American civics, and examinations demonstrating the ability to read, write, and speak the English language. However, sometimes, an individual may have memory problems which interfere with his/her comprehension and learning of subjects such as history or civics. Also, there are individuals, especially women from poorer countries, who have had such minimal schooling that they never learned how to learn or study. Also, elderly people may have developed senile dementia, or be in the early stages of Alzheimer's disease, and cannot learn English, U.S. history, or civics due to the diseases of advanced age. In addition, people with physical injuries, such as trauma to the head, also may be permanently unable to learn. A trained psychological evaluator would be extremely valuable in these kinds of cases. After meeting with the individual, and administering certain standardized tests that are designed to test learning disorders, the evaluator will then write a report describing the results of the interview and the tests. The written evaluation of the psychological evaluator becomes part of the application for citizenship and another form requesting an excuse from the examination requirement due to disability.

Sometimes, in order to obtain a benefit from the Immigration Service, or to win in Immigration Court, a non-citizen must show "exceptional hardship" to his/her US-citizen/lawful permanent resident family, such as a spouse or child. For instance, let's say a foreigner without status marries a United States citizen. They have three children, all of whom are United States citizens who have never lived anywhere but in the United States. If one of the parents is a non-citizen who is about to be deported by an Immigration Judge, it may be possible to cancel the deportation (called "cancellation of removal") by showing, among other things, that it would be an extreme hardship to the family if the foreign-born parent were deported. A psychological evaluation should be done of the family which will help establish the type and severity of hardship the individual family members would suffer. The psychological evaluator would consider such factors as the ability of the children to speak, read, or write in the language of the foreign country, the fact that leaving the US might present a permanent barrier to the completion of the children's education, and separation anxiety disorders on the part of children left behind when a parent is deported. Some children, especially when they are very young, are not able to understand why one of their parents must leave the United States. These children become insecure and often suffer from depressive disorders. A good psychological evaluator will be able document all of these hardships, and can tip the scales of justice in favor of cancellation of deportation.

Another use of psychological evaluations is in proving spousal abuse. In cases where a man or woman from a foreign country marries a U.S. citizen or lawful permanent resident of the United States, and that person is then abused by his/her spouse, the abused foreign spouse may be able to obtain permanent residency in some cases. The abused foreign spouse must first prove verbal, physical, sexual, or psychological abuse. A good psychological evaluation will assess the characteristics of the abuse, the frequency of the abuse, and the impact the abuse has had on the foreign spouse. The evaluator's report will present an impartial analysis of the abuse and its impact on the victim.

A psychological evaluator will work closely with an immigration attorney in deportation defense cases and in cases where immigration benefits are sought. The immigration attorney guides the case and defines the scope of the psychological evaluation in order to be sure it addresses the issues that are relevant to each case. For this reason, the services of an experienced immigration attorney are essential.

About the author: Kathleen Lord-Black is a U.S. immigration lawyer.  Her offices are located in Vancouver, British Columbia. She has served as Immigration Consultant for the San Francisco Public Defenders Office, 2005 Chair of the Immigration Section of the Barristers Club of the Bar Association of San Francisco, and former Congressional liaison for U.S. Representative Farr. Ms. Lord-Black is an active member of the American Immigration Lawyers Association, the American Chamber of Commerce in Vancouver, and the American Civil Liberties Union. Her articles regularly appear in the Bay Area Arabic-language newspaper, Alra’i Alarabi. Ms. Lord-Black can be reached via email at; and by telephone at (360) 329-2436 (U.S.) and (604) 352-2006 (Canada).