Voice

May-June 2012

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the BY DR. MEGAN SELTZ mmigration law and sychologist P "The client is better prepared to explain the experience and its impact to the judge, because it has been processed through the evaluation and in therapy." —Usman Ahmad 18 VOICE sychological problems are rooted in a variety of strong biological, social, and behavioral bases.1 difficult to express when factoring in a person's cultural influences. And while immigrant clients and their relatives oſten face emotional and mental issues stemming from immigration proceedings, not all clients or their attorneys are aware of the value that a psychological evaluation can bring to their cases. When presented by a licensed professional, psychological evaluations can help immigration judges (IJs) evaluate cases more fairly. Immigration attorneys oſten collaborate with expert psychologists in cases where presenting in protracted mental health problems. These problems can be particularly Life stressors can exacerbate mental illness and result their clients' emotional and mental functioning is essential to a successful outcome. "I have used psychological evaluation of my clients in preparing cases for cancellation of removal and I-601 hardship waivers," said Carol Wolfenson, an immigration attorney. "I previously used social workers reports, but have found that the immigration judges are more impressed and influenced by the reports/testimony of a licensed clinical psychologist," Wolfenson added. "It is harder for an IJ to deny that there is extreme and unusual hardship where a doctor has assessed a family and found serious problems." Alexis Pimentel, an immigration attorney in New York, believes a psychological evaluation is even more important when a client faces language barriers or the inability to express him- or herself. "The use of a psychologist is extremely important to ascertain the veracity of the client's claim," said Pimentel. "Quite oſten, clients have difficulty verbalizing their issues and conditions to the judge. The psychologist['s] report and testimony give credibility to the client's claim and assure the judge that there is concrete medical data to support [his or her] decision." Case in Point: General Anxiety Disorder A previously undiagnosed 5-year-old knows that his parent is "not legal" and "must go to court." He fears that his father will be returned to Ecuador, which he perceives to be a dangerous place. The child describes dreams involving monsters and forces that harm his family, causing him to wake up in the middle of the night. He stays in bed as not to disturb his parents, but is clingy and cries easily during the day. He is preoccupied at school about the whereabouts and fate of his parents, and worries that his siblings may suffer untimely death. The school officials notice that he appears distracted, but is unsure why and simply notes it in a report card. The child reports stomachaches and headaches, but his pediatrician can find no medical basis. When asked to draw a picture of what makes him happy and sad, he presents pictures of family together playing in the park for the former and pictures of his father leaving the family home with bags packed for the latter. If deported to Ecuador, the child's pre-existing anxiety, coupled with the real environmental dangers and lack of opportunity in Ecuador, could exacerbate the Generalized Anxiety Disorder, resulting in what may be lifelong impairment. This long-term damage could be averted by a psychologist's report or testimony, which can prevent deportation of the boy's father. ILLUSTRATION BY BRADLEY AMBURN SHUTTERSTOCK.COM

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