Hastings Race and Poverty Law Journal


Carol M. Suzuki


Each year, innumerable asylum seekers are denied relief in the United States because the asylum officer or immigration judge does not believe that the applicant is telling the truth. The immigration judge makes an adverse credibility determination because the applicant's story of persecution lacks sufficient detail and is inconsistent. A victim of severe and often prolonged trauma may develop post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), which profoundly affects his ability to tell a consistent and detailed story of past persecution. Thus, an asylum seeker suffering from PTSD as a result of traumatic experiences, desperately in need of a safe haven, may be denied asylum as a direct result of the symptoms of his affliction. Recent changes in immigration law have considerably raised both the evidentiary requirements and the standards for obtaining asylum. These changes create an asylum process that poses significant obstacles for asylum seekers and dramatically reduces their chances of being granted asylum. This article proposes practical methods to utilize throughout the lawyer-client relationship in order to help an asylum seeker tell a more credible story of past persecution. These counseling techniques may assist an asylum seeker in consistently remembering details of past persecution, which form the basis of a well-founded fear of being returned to his home country. The author incorporates the most recent scientific research on PTSD and its effect on memory in recommending the counseling techniques in this article.

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