Trauma and the Paradox of Asylum Seekers’ Credibility

Jennifer Umberg

Trauma and the Paradox of Asylum Seekers’ Credibility
Umberg, Jennifer
Thesis Advisor(s):
Martin, J. Paul
M.A., Columbia University
Institute for the Study of Human Rights
Persistent URL:
Oftentimes those fleeing persecution have only their testimony as evidence for their asylum claims. This leaves asylum officers and Immigration Judges with the task of assessing the credibility of each individual’s story. If an applicant is found not credible, his or her claim for asylum status will likely be denied and have little chance to successfullyfightthedecisiononappeal. Despite the importance of credibility determinations in asylum cases,officers and Immigration Judges are afforded highly subjective leeway for their assessments, and advised by law to analyze applicants’ “demeanor” and “candor.” The credibility assessment presents a unique conundrum: asylum seekerswhoaretraumatized(oftentimesduetothereasonstheyfledpersecution)mayhave a more challenging time presenting a coherent testimony. Those without access to legal counsel—oranadvocatetorequestanaffidavitfrommentalhealthexperts—aresubject to the whim of judges and officers who take the asylum seeker’s testimony as untrue. This paper examines the ways in which the U.S. asylum system discriminates against applicants with trauma-related psychosocial disorders. In particular, it examines who gains access to mental health experts as a means to support their testimony, and ways in which this evidence is used. The lack of quality control with regards to asylum cases offers unique insight into how part of the U.S. legal system is stacked against some of the most vulnerable claimants, intended to be protected under U.S. law.
Human rights
Psychic trauma
Political refugees--Mental health
Political refugees--Legal status, laws, etc.
Asylum, Right of
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Suggested Citation:
Jennifer Umberg, , Trauma and the Paradox of Asylum Seekers’ Credibility, Columbia University Academic Commons, .

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