Why Do Psychological Evaluations Matter?
Having a legal team to aid a person’s application to remain and settle in the United States vastly increases the chance that deportation can be avoided and that families can stay together in safety.
A key and often overlooked part of a person’s legal immigration case is the psychological evaluation, which many immigrants need and deserve but which few have access to because of the costs involved. Immigration courts traditionally regard comprehensive psychological exams as compelling evidence of a person’s need to remain in the US, and immigrants that submit a comprehensive psychological evaluation as part of their legal case win their cases twice as often as those without.
Unfortunately, until now, there have been few recourses for immigrants who cannot pay for the psychological evaluation out-of-pocket or through insurance. The Immigration Psychology Access Team was created precisely to fill this gap: by providing low-cost evaluations, more families will be able to stay together and more individuals will be able to find the safety and services they and their families need.
What Does the Evaluation Process Comprise?
Each evaluation requires a minimum of 8-12 hours of work, and often significantly more. It includes initial planning, scheduling, and pre-screening; working out payment and insurance structures and billing, where relevant; soliciting and evaluating detailed pre-interview questionnaires from both the client and family members and the client’s legal representative; and then conducting in-depth interviews with both the client and, when relevant, family members. The interview phase may last for several sessions. Collateral information is also gathered from medical professionals, therapists and other involved parties. Then the psychologist must write up a detailed report for submission to immigration court. Additional hours may be needed if the psychologist is asked to provide testimony in court or to travel to meet rural applicants or detainees at often far-flung detention centers. Increasingly, there is time required to gain access to detainees at detention centers as well. Unaccompanied minors staying with foster families are also eligible for evaluations. Referring clients for appropriate mental health services when needed is an additional component.
How Much Do Evaluations Cost?
Because Immigration Psychology Access Team is a nonprofit organization dedicated to providing these evaluations, we can provide them efficiently, professionally, and cost-effectively. Fees range from $700 to $1,000 per evaluation—significantly less than a mental health professional's hourly billable rate. We then work with the client to see what—if any amount—they can actually contribute. The remaining costs are subsidized by the non-profit Impact.
How Are Immigrants Selected to Benefit from Your Services?
We help immigrants who are submitting various types of legal applications (see below). Immigrants are referred to us by attorneys, legal aid agencies, or, in some cases, are self-referred. The Immigration Psychology Access Team specifically serves immigrants that would not otherwise be able to afford a psychological evaluation, so that every immigrant has access to due process including a high-quality psychological evaluation to support their case. Their ability to pay is assessed prior to referral; additional financial assessment may be conducted if needed.
What Organizations Do You Partner with for This Work?
We work closely and have had long referral relationships with over 30 immigration attorneys from different law firms, legal aid organizations, and charitable services, including Nelson-Smith Immigration Law, Oregon Immigration Law, Immigration Counseling Services, Game Immigration Law, other immigration law offices, Catholic Charities, Lutheran Family Services, SOAR Immigration Legal Services, Virginia Garcia Clinic, Western Psychological Services, Conexiones, , Sea Mar clinic, and many others.
What Types of Immigration Cases Benefit from Psychological Evaluations?
Most immigration cases can benefit from evaluation from a specially trained psychologist or mental health professional. Types of cases we provide services to include:
- Extreme and Exceptional Hardship cases – An immigrant who is a spouse of a U.S. citizen or permanent resident, or has U.S. citizen or permanent resident family members who will experience extreme or exceptional hardship if the immigrant is deported
- Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) cases – An immigrant spouse or other relative has experienced abuse; its provisions apply to both women and men
- U Visas – for victims of violent crimes in the U.S. who have suffered mental or physical harm
- T Visas – for victims of human trafficking
- Asylum claims – for those suffering or fearing persecution due to race, religion, nationality, membership in a particular social group, or political opinion
- Cancellation of Removal for non-permanent residents – for immigrants who are in the process of removal (deportation) but may qualify for any of the above visas
- N648 evaluations – for those applying for the citizenship exam who need certification of a disability
Why Subsidize These Evaluations?
The clients most urgently in need of psychological evaluations are often also those most unable to pay for them. Many immigrants seeking residency are low-income or are unable to work lawfully in the United States; many are also fleeing dangerous circumstances in their home countries and have left with few if any assets.
Negotiating the immigration system can be a huge financial burden on people who already have very little; low-cost legal aid can help, but there is currently no subsidy for psychological evaluations, which can make or break a case. By subsidizing psychological evaluations, more people will have their traumatic story documented and have it become part of their legal application to remain.
What is the role of the psychological evaluation in the legal decision-making process?
The evaluations consist of objective psychological data: relevant family background, trauma history, medical and psychiatric history, diagnosis and current level of functioning. Relevant and culturally appropriate clinical assessments are administered. Specific assessments are conducted related to extreme hardship, domestic violence, trauma, human trafficking, crime victim symptomology and persecution. The evaluator does not make a legal decision, but rather submits the evaluation date in the form of an expert report to immigration court. This in-depth psychological evaluation contributes to the legal decision-making process made by the court.
How do you address linguistic and cultural differences?
Every effort is made to conduct the psychological evaluation in the client’s native language. Immigration Psychology Access Team’s current psychologists are multilingual and multicultural mental health professionals, and in the coming months we will be training additional multicultural and multilingual mental health professionals to conduct this work.
Selection of culturally appropriate assessment materials is an important part of the evaluation process. In cases where there are no evaluators who speak the client’s native language available, interpreters are used. This is often the case with indigenous languages. In-person interpreters are hired through translation services and at times remote interpretation services are used. How to work with interpreters and how to provide culturally appropriate assessments is a part of Impact's training program.
Who Else is Doing This Work?
Physicians for Human Rights (PHR) and HealthRight International also train and provide psychological evaluations. Sanctuary for Families also provides these. Coverage by these groups is often limited to a particular kind of evaluation and/or geographical region, and primarily relies upon volunteer psychologists. Immigration Psychology Access Team provides mental health evaluations for multiple types of immigration legal cases, but with a more sustainable and scalable model, because we pay our professionals rather than relying on volunteer service; our training program also means that we can successfully expand the network of expert evaluators.
Do You Provide Follow-Up Mental Healthcare Services?
Yes, as seasoned professionals we make appropriate referrals. After the in-depth evaluation, we determine if the person or persons need mental health services. Most immigrants have not benefitted from treatment due to lack of insurance, lack of culturally appropriate services, or out of fear that documentation may be required in order to receive services.
In most cases, after a positive experience with the mental health evaluator, the client is more willing to engage in treatment and comply with a referral. When there is a question of safety or severe mental illness, follow up calls are made to the client to ensure compliance with treatment recommendations. At times, it is important to educate the court about why a client is not in treatment. In some cases, the client presents with severe trauma and will need treatment before they can participate in their court proceedings. In this case, the client is referred for immediate treatment for trauma.
Why Do You Refer Those in Need of Mental Health Services to Others?
The role an evaluator for immigration court is markedly different from the role of a therapist or prescriber. Evaluators are specialists whose expertise relies on an objective review of each case. Therapist reports are often included in the evaluation if the client is in treatment. However, the evaluator cannot be in the dual role of evaluator and therapist, since objectivity would be compromised in the eyes of the court.
We refer clients in need of mental health services to various clinics and individual clinicians who can provide culturally appropriate treatment. Our referral network includes Virginia Garcia Clinic, Western Psychological Services, Conexiones, Catholic Charities, Lutheran Services, Sea Mar clinic, and many independent practitioners.
Who’s on Your Team?
You’re a New Organization. Why Should I Support You?
We are young as a nonprofit organization, but we have all been doing this same work for many years with a proven track record. Our structure, networks, and protocol are long-established, and over 95% of immigrants who have received evaluations from us win their case to remain. Supporting us with your contributions will mean that we can do more of the good work we’re already doing: we can serve more people, and we can finally serve those people who couldn’t normally afford to access our services but have the legal right to them. As a young nonprofit, seed funding will be essential to our growth in capacity to serve those in need.
What Are Your Goals for Growth?
In addition to making our evaluation services sustainable and accessible, we would like to expand trainings for mental health professionals so that more immigrants across the state and nation can benefit from expert psychological evaluations.
We would also like to begin trainings for lawyers and judges. We have found that speaking with legal colleagues about the evidentiary value of psychological evaluations adds to attorneys' understanding of their immigrant clients and creates a trauma-informed approach by judges. Legal professionals can benefit from trauma informed questioning of clients, so that clients do not become re-traumatized by the process. Finally, judges, attorneys and legal staff can suffer secondary trauma (sometimes called vicarious trauma) from being chronically exposed to the trauma of others. Immigration psychologists can offer support and education in these arenas.
Why Should I Give to Immigration Psychology Access Team?
Please consider a gift to Immigration Psychology Access Team: our work transforms and saves lives and keeps families together. Every ounce of expert support immigrants receive means that they are that much more likely to gain the permanent right to settle in safety with their families. Access to high quality psychological evaluations is a leading factor in the success of immigration cases.
Giving to Immigration Psychology Access Team greatly magnifies peoples’ chances to live safe and productive lives. If you want an impactful, tangible way to help immigrant families and enrich American communities, help us build IMPACT today! The need is clear, and with your help, we can meet it!