Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Women, Asylum and PTSD

A recent discussion regarding women and Rwanda reminded me of this immigration case I read on a woman seeking asylum from Rwanda, and the obstacles women face in obtaining asylum or other forms of relief.

Asylum applicants generally have to show that they have a well founded fear of persecution on account of membership in a particular social group [race, nationality, but not gender]. In Mukamusoni v. Ashcroft, 390 F.3d 110 (1st Cir. 2004), a woman who had fled Rwanda due to persecution wan unfortunately not found by the court to establish persecution on account of her membership of her mixed Hutu/Tutsi heritage and her father’s political activities. The case is worth the blog space though because the court supported the idea that although the applicant filed past the Statute of Limitations, she was not barred from filing her application due to depression and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)that caused her delay in filing. [The PTSD and depression were a result of the rapes and violence she experienced].

I believe this case is significant because the court in Mukamusoni gave legitimacy to mental illnesses and allowed some leniency for survivors of violence. Illnesses such as PTSD, affecting women and men, are often cast off as “malingering illnesses,” thus affecting credibility. In asylum law, so much of the evidence falls on the applicants’ credibility because they are often fleeing violence and do not have the ability to “preserve the evidence.” When courts support applicants’ claim of PTSD, it also supports their credibility.

The trier of fact, or immigration judge in immigration court, can obviously understand the gaps in theor the applicant’s story of “persecution” because many PTSD survivors can have difficulty recalling a “consistent and detailed story of past persecution.” I am hoping that the law advances so that PTSD is not just a circumstance the tolls the statute of limitations for survivors, but also allows some leeway for survivors in recounting their story so that the court is not retraumatizing victims.

To end on a good note, in 2007, the U.C. Davis Immigration law clinic won a case where the court extended the SOL for a father and two sons with PTSD for Convention Against Torture relief (CAT). The elements for CAT are similar to those for asylum.

1 comment:

Lisa R. Pruitt said...

Thanks for sharing this. I, too, am impressed by the court's flexibility on the statute of limitations issue, which reflects a more sophisticated and compassionate understanding than we usually see from courts re: mental illness.