Attorney Mooradian spoke yesterday with a group of over twenty Community Healthlink employees, including doctors, administrators, social workers, and case managers, regarding services for immigrants and undocumented clients. Attorney Mooradian began the presentation with information on trauma and interviewing clients, and then followed up with practical advice regarding applications for relief that might be available for undocumented clients. As a general matter, Attorney Mooradian emphasized the value and importance of obtaining citizenship for those who may be eligible. He also emphasized the importance of consulting with a qualified attorney prior to turning over biographical information to the immigration agency or defending oneself in immigration proceedings. Namely, he emphasized the various methods that workers can use to avoid putting their clients in jeopardy of being removed from the United States or being found inadmissible in trying to return to the United States.
With regard to interviewing clients, Attorney Mooradian recounted various client situations to illustrate the many different concerns clients may have while sharing information. Often times, clients may be reluctant to share information because of guilt that they feel. For example, young children might feel guilty for the family that they have left behind in their country of origin. Or, unable to work, they may feel guilty for relying on a parent, or a more distant family member, for financial support. These feelings of guilt may make clients reluctant to detail the traumatic experiences that they have encountered in an effort to not seem ungrateful. In reality, these traumatic experiences, though difficult to discuss, are central to presenting a strong claim for an immigration benefit or an immigration defense.
Undocumented clients may also be reluctant to share information due to cultural differences. Often times, serious trauma, abandonment, or abuse experienced by a client will have psychological effects. Many clients can benefit greatly from an evaluation of their mental health, which can help corroborate or verify their life history. Clients are often reticent to attend these meetings with mental health workers due to social stigma against mental health concerns. In some countries, including in rural areas, mental health evaluation and treatment could literally be considered witchcraft, or be met with varying degrees of skepticism.
Another reason that clients may have difficulty sharing experiences of past harm is fear of retribution. Many clients have suffered physical or emotional harm at the hands of very powerful and dangerous organizations, such as an oppressive government or a gang or terrorist organization. These clients, while under the care of a mental health worker and/or attorney, may still fear that if forced to return to their home country, they will be punished for what they have said about their oppressor. In fact, many oppressive groups, like gangs, even have tentacles here in the United States. Thus, the client may be at risk of harm even if the client is never returned to their country of origin. Accordingly, it is very important for workers to emphasize confidentiality, and exercise best practices to preserve confidentiality, in order to assist clients in opening up about any trauma they may have experienced.
Clients also may have mixed feelings about their country of origin-- the site of their trauma may also be the place where they went to school, still have family members, observed natural beauty, or celebrated happy occasions. These mixed feelings about a country, knowing that their home country is both a place of immense joy and painful experiences, may cause clients difficulty in expressing their true feelings and fears of persecution in their home country.
These are just some of the challenges that interviewers and social workers may face in obtaining a robust report from their client regarding life history. But a solid understanding of one's client history is essential in defending against removal proceedings or to obtain benefits from USCIS. For example, an asylum applicant must show a reasonable fear of persecution in the country of origin. Without any client testimony regarding past harm experienced, or fear of future harm at the hands of very oppressive forces, there would be no colorable claim for asylum. Similarly, a victim of a crime here in the United States might be eligible for a protective U Visa. But in the absence of a reliable and consistent report from the client detailing their painful experience, relief will not be possible.
Attorney Mooradian's presentation concluded with questions and answers, some regarding general best practices, and others regarding specific client questions around citizenship, obtaining information from the court or USCIS, and current immigration policies and upcoming changes. At the very core, Attorney Mooradian emphasized the importance of obtaining reliable information regarding immigration, and to urge clients to avoid taking legal advise from family, friends, or notarios.