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Asylum Cases: Experts

What is the purpose of an expert witness?

Although a client’s testimony alone may be enough to prove an asylum case, almost universally additional evidence is needed to carry the applicant’s burden of proof. While general country conditions documentation may help prove the case, an expert can be helpful when your client’s claim raises a unique issue or one that is not very well documented in country conditions reports. An expert provides objective evidence that your client’s fear of persecution is well founded and provides context for the adjudicator to understand your client’s fears.

There are two main categories of expert witnesses for asylum claims: medical/psychological experts who document and speak to the effects of the persecution on your client and country condition experts who speak to the situation in country, existence of a particular social group, or your client’s linguistic or tribal identity.

Who can be an expert?

Someone with knowledge, experience, or education about the country or particular topic to which you wish them to speak. The Federal Rules of Evidence do not strictly apply in the immigration context, but serve as a useful guide in determining who is an expert.[1] It is essential that the proffered expert does have the credentials, experience, and knowledge necessary to be considered an expert on the particular point that their testimony is being used to prove.

Where do I find experts?

There is no easy to use list of experts, we can locate experts willing to donate their time from a variety of resources, including: universities and colleges (particularly regional studies departments where professors or doctoral students may have researched or written about your client’s country); returned Peace Corps volunteers who were stationed in country; expats (such as former State Department, Human Rights Watch, Doctors Without Borders, or other NGO workers) who have spent time living and working in country; former residents – in the local community there may be individuals who are natives of and experts about your client’s country because they too lived there; linguists fluent in the language or dialect your client speaks (proving nationality or clan identity).

How do I present expert testimony?

For affirmative asylum cases, the expert provides a written affidavit of testimony along with a copy of his or her Curriculum Vitae (CV). For removal cases, the expert can provide a written affidavit and testify at the hearing either in person or by telephonic testimony.[2] Expert witnesses must be identified on the asylum applicant’s witness list and meet all requirements outlined in the Immigration Court Practice Manual. Telephonic testimony will require additional arrangements and a motion to the court, but it can be a much more cost-effective solution than flying an expert in from another state or abroad.

When should I use expert testimony?

Psychological or physical effects of torture or trauma should be documented by a physician or psychological professional. Torture treatment experts can also testify about the effects of torture in general upon witnesses’ ability to testify. If client is a torture survivor, client may contact a torture treatment center in your area which can provide invaluable healing and support to your client as well as potential expert testimony about the effects of the torture. Psychological testimony and diagnosis of PTSD or other effects may be crucial to supporting client’s asylum claim. This evidence is particularly important if a client has difficulty telling his or her story in a credible manner.

If your client’s claim involves a country where the situation is in flux or where there is a dearth of information, a country expert is necessary. An initial review of country conditions documentation available through the UN, State Department, Amnesty International and other reliable sources should provide a good sense of whether your client’s claim can be corroborated through these resources. If these sources do not provide timely corroboration, you will want to seek out an expert who can testify about the human rights situation on the ground today.

Finally, if your client is a member of a social group which is not well known or documented, an expert with knowledge of the group may be able to help corroborate the claim. One example might be a survivor of domestic violence from Mali. There may not be much documentary evidence about the treatment of women and domestic violence laws in Mali, so an advocate from Mali, a UN researcher, or a college professor with a focus on gender violence in Africa might be able to provide additional context and corroboration.

What should the testimony include?

The expert’s role is to provide his or her knowledge about the country, medical, or psychological condition based on his or her experience. The expert can put the client’s claim in context by stating “based upon my research, the conditions described by client are consistent with those I observed.” The expert cannot say “I think this person should get asylum.” The country expert should review the client’s affidavit to understand the claim and have context for his or her remarks.

A physician or psychologist must meet with the client to be able to provide an assessment of the effects of the trauma. As assessment may include photos or a written description of physical scars and effects as well as a psychological assessment and diagnosis.


Torture Treatment Centers: http://www.healtorture.org/healing-centers/domestic

Physicians for Human Rights Asylum Network: http://physiciansforhumanrights.org/asylum/attorneys.html

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