One of the most important parts of my practice is providing immigration evaluations. When I tell friends, family, or anyone who isn’t a lawyer that I provide this service, they often do not understand what this means or why I do this. There are all too common misconceptions about immigrants and why they are in the United States. For me, providing evaluations for immigrants who are fighting to stay here is a privilege. I would like to discuss several different types of evaluations and why they are so important not only to the people that I serve, but also why it is important to humanize the process. I want people to understand how people fight to have the freedom to be in the United States and why it is so important to them, as well as why we need to understand that there are circumstances that are beyond anything we have had the privilege to comprehend.
I personally provide three different types of Immigration Evaluations. The first is VAWA which is a Violence Against Women’s Act Evaluation. The second is an Extreme Hardship Evaluation, and the third is an Asylum evaluation. I will go into further detail about each one of these evaluations but it is important to note that there are similarities and differences with each one and they each are treated individually. I have also have had ‘one off’ evaluations that are different types of evaluations than these, however these are the main types of evaluations that I personally offer. What is similar in each one of these cases is that the evaluator, or therapist is providing an objective assessment of a client or clients’ situation using both an interview as well as evidence based screening tools, and with the combination of both, they come up with a written report. My reports are typically between 15-20 pages, but typically they are at least 20 pages. The other similarity between these reports is these evaluations are generally taken very seriously by the court/judge. As a therapist, this gives me a huge sense of pride in the fact that I can help someone who truly deserves help and I can have a positive impact on someone’s life who has suffered tremendously.
VAWA or Violence Against Women’s Act:
For an immigrant married to a U.S. citizen or resident, domestic violence takes place on particularly destructive dynamics. In this kind of situation, the U.S. citizen is able to use the threat of deportation (often to a country filled with violence and poverty) to control virtually every aspect of the immigrant’s life, giving themselves free reign to act in any way they choose. The U.S. citizen may demand that the immigrant hand over paychecks; take over household duties; and submit to insulting and humiliating treatment. The threat of deportation holds an immigrant hostage to their spouse’s “emotional blackmail.” When the couple has children, there is the additional, terrifying threat that the U.S. citizen will separate the immigrant from his/her children. Exacerbating the issue, immigrants most often have no legal or practical resources with which to protect themselves, and few, if any, social or familial resources. These factors make immigrants particularly vulnerable to vicious dynamics of domestic violence.
Another piece that is not often discussed is that this does not just pertain to women. I have had at least as many men, possibly more men than women, who I have done evaluations on, who qualify for this type of evaluation. It is important to note that domestic violence can happen to anyone regardless of gender. However, the mainstream culture often misunderstands and even ridicules this idea. There tends to be a societal expectation that men will have equal if not greater power than their wives, in terms of financial, physical, and emotional strength. The phenomena of a man being abused by his wife goes against these gender expectations and often (irrationally) calls into question the “masculinity” of the man being abused. Due to this stigma, male victims often experience intense shame about the abuse, which causes them to remain silent and prevents them from getting help.
For Extreme Hardship cases, I work to identify unique factors contributing to a client’s psychological distress such as: illness; disability; professional, financial, or academic hardship, or adverse home-country conditions that would affect the petitioner or their family members. The petitioner is the United States citizen or resident. I am working with them to prove that it would cause them an extreme hardship for their spouse to be forced to return to their home country and be unable to return to the United States for 10 years. Oftentimes, the non-citizen has been living in the United States their whole life. There are times that this isn’t the case, but it is often true. There are other times (most of the time) that they have children who were born in the United States, they have lived here, were married here, and one spouse would be forced to leave. It is often gut wrenching for the family to be split apart and they are being forced into a decision where the one family member is being asked to return somewhere that they have no way to make any income, it is an unsafe country, there is no reliable health care, and they would be destitute. Here their spouse often has a job, they are making a secure income, have health care, and it would be impossible for the spouse to go with them because they would have to make money for the other person to survive, so it is an impossible decision.
As a provider for an asylum evaluation, I provide psychological reasons why a client missed the one-year filing deadline, and detail how PTSD symptoms provide evidence of the persecution they suffered. In order to qualify for Asylum, you have to have suffered persecution in your home country based on race, religion, nationality, membership in a particular social group, or because of your political opinion. Oftentimes it is more than one person that is requesting Asylum and you may include your spouse and children who are in the United States on your application at the time of filing until a decision is made on your case. To include your children, they must be under 21 years old.
I have now worked with a few individuals and families who qualify and have filed for asylum. In order to qualify for asylum, they have to prove that at least one of these things have not only happened to them, but they have to show why they have missed the deadline if they have missed the deadline, and that the hardship they faced and the psychological suffering was so great, that they weren’t able to make the deadline. The people, families, and individuals, who have gone through this hardship have been through so much that we as US Citizens cannot fathom. We don’t know what it is like to not be safe in our own country because we cannot trust that our own government won’t kill us. We don’t understand what it is like to truly live in a country where having a religion can bring death to you. We live in a democracy and we can never take that for granted. The people who I talk with are so grateful to be somewhere safe, that they can wear what they want, go where they want, worship what they want, without fear.
Never forget that just because we live in America that there are people all throughout the world that live differently than we do. Never forget that we have a responsibility to love one another, to bear each other’s burdens, and to show compassion and understanding, not judgement and ridicule. These evaluations are a way for me to know beyond a shadow of a doubt that I am in the career I was meant to be in, I am doing what I was supposed to do, and that it is important to help others. Find your way to help those around you.
Recommendation from Vissia Calderon at Calderon Law:
I’ve worked with many other psychologists in Las Vegas and have recently just started working with Rebecca a few months ago. Since then, she’s always been my preferred evaluator for my clients. I found her reports to be detailed, comprehensive and thorough, and her willingness to work with me and my clients to gather more information and help render a strong report is indeed admirable.
**Note I am a Marriage and Family Therapist and I am able to provide Immigration Evaluations**