Friday, May 25, 2018

Cause and Effect of PTSD in Asylum Applicants

Guest blogger: Ryan Vander Horn, law student, University of San Francisco

When reviewing the requirements for an asylum application a glaring issue regarding mental health appears. Since applicants for asylum are under the burden of demonstrating that they have a well-founded fear of persecution, many applicants are individuals who have experienced trauma first-hand. While not every person who is a victim of trauma develops PTSD, a great deal of the asylum applicants who have dealt with persecution exhibit symptoms of PTSD. As a result of this issue, I decided to interview Katherine Flannery who has a Master’s Degree in Psychology and works as a school psychologist at Randolph High School in Randolph, NJ.

            Katherine described PTSD at great length, but the key component is that there is a traumatic event which can cause a multitude of mental issues in daily life, including the inability to carry out normal functions. PTSD is only diagnosed when the stress is so great that it impedes basic social functions. Since the burden of proof in asylum cases is on the victim of persecution or person fearing it, the system is putting pressure on individuals who may not be able to function in daily activities let alone undergo legal examination and processes.

            The other interesting point that Katherine and I noticed in our discussion came when I explained the aspect of asylum law requiring that the native government either took part in or knew of the persecution and was unable to alleviate it. Katherine made the very poignant observation that while even a regular proceeding and bureaucratic process would be hard enough for a victim of PTSD, if the trauma experienced was at the hands of a government organization or happened with the acquiescence of a government, then the victim may not trust another such system for relief. Simply approaching a government building or official after experiencing trauma at the hands of such a force would be enough to trigger a severe reaction for someone who is burdened by PTSD. This highlights a key issue in having asylum applicants feel comfortable enough to utilize the proper channels for entry as an asylum applicant.

            The final piece of the asylum laws which is ill-fitted for the purpose of protecting those who have been or will be victims of persecution, is the requirement that applications be filed within one year of arrival. Once again those who have been the victims of trauma through persecution may not feel comfortable speaking of their experience at all, let alone to a government official. The short time span in which they are expected to file an application exacerbates this issue by not allowing any recovery time for the afflicted immigrant prior to requiring them to take the stand and prove their persecution by reliving traumatic experiences.

            As a result of PTSD there are thousands of individuals each year who qualify for asylum but do not apply. In order to align the purpose of the law with the practice, we need to take steps toward alleviating some of the glaring issues facing asylum applicants with psychological disorders. Those who seek asylum and claim to have been impacted by traumatic experiences should be granted leave for a full year prior to the one year limit, so they may pursue counseling service providers who will work with immigration lawyers to make the process more accessible for those who exhibit signs of PTSD. Additionally, there should be a simplified application process or explanation of the process provided for those with symptoms of psychological disorders that allows a more stress-free manner for them to gain the basic information needed and prepare themselves for the process. At the end of the day, asylum exists as a method for our nation to extend aid to those displaced by persecution and perform humanitarian role, thus we need to take a humanitarian approach to how the law is actually applied.


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