Ripples Against the Other Shore: The Impact of Trauma Exposure on the Immigration Process Through Adjudicators

37 Pages Posted: 25 Jan 2014 Last revised: 17 Oct 2015

Date Written: 2013


Immigration is currently a hot topic; discussion of immigration reform and the problems in our current system appear in the news virtually every day. There is widespread consensus that our current immigration system is “broken,” but there is little agreement on why and even less on what should be done to fix it. These are difficult and important questions, involving many complex interrelated factors. While I do not hope and cannot aim to answer them completely in this article, I will argue that in doing so we must consider an often overlooked and generally understudied issue: the effects of trauma exposure in our immigration process and specifically on our immigration adjudicators, that is, immigration judges, Board of Immigration Appeals members, and United States Citizenship and Immigration Services officers.

Despite the little attention paid to the effects of trauma exposure, this is a topic of great importance. If our goal is to have an immigration system that not only operates fairly and efficiently but also has a positive effect on all participants — noncitizens, attorneys, adjudicators, and other officials, among them — we must consider the ways that our current system causes psychological harm to those involved. Evidence of this harm in our legal system is abundant. It can be seen in the stories of noncitizens caught up in our immigration process, in the high levels of distress suffered by attorneys and judges, in the criticism of immigration judges and other officials, and in the general dysfunction of our immigration system. At the same time, the causes for this harm are only infrequently discussed. This article will highlight one cause of such harm: trauma exposure.

I have multiple goals for this article. First, I want to continue the important work begun by the many others cited throughout the article of normalizing the discussion of the emotional dimension of lawyering and its impact in and on our legal system. Second, I want to highlight the very significant impact of a particular aspect of this emotional dimension, trauma, on the immigration process by exploring its effect on immigration adjudicators. Finally, I intend to set the stage for a future article that will consider reforms to the immigration system to better manage the impact of trauma exposure.

Keywords: therapeutic jurisprudence, immigration

Suggested Citation

Rodriguez, Kate Aschenbrenner, Ripples Against the Other Shore: The Impact of Trauma Exposure on the Immigration Process Through Adjudicators (2013). Michigan Journal of Race & Law, Vol. 19, No. 53, 2013, Available at SSRN:

Kate Aschenbrenner Rodriguez (Contact Author)

Barry University School of Law ( email )

6441 East Colonial Drive
Orlando, FL 32807
United States
4076815403 (Phone)


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