Access to a Doctor, Access to Justice? An Empirical Study on the Impact of Forensic Medical Examinations in Preventing Deportations

70 Pages Posted: 27 May 2022

See all articles by Nermeen Arastu

Nermeen Arastu

CUNY School of Law ; CUNY School of Law

Date Written: May 1, 2022

Abstract

Year after year, the United States has remained the world’s largest recipient of humanitarian-based immigration applications. Those seeking protection here must navigate a backlogged and increasingly restrictive system, oftentimes without access to counsel.

Most individuals applying for humanitarian relief must prove that they survived egregious past harms or fear future harms if the United States were to deport them. In turn, immigration judges and Department of Homeland Security adjudicators act as gatekeepers, making daily decisions about whose pain and suffering is devastating enough to justify granting them status in the United States.

For immigrants privileged enough to gain access to them, forensic medical evaluators can play a crucial role in immigration outcomes by documenting narratives of harm, bolstering credibility, and persuading adjudicators to grant relief. However, despite the exponential growth in medical-legal collaborations and requests for forensic medical evaluations in support of immigrants, there is little data about if and how forensic medical evidence impacts adjudicator decision making.

The empirical study discussed in this Article—the largest-of-its-kind quantitative study of over 2,500 cases in which Physicians for Human Rights (“PHR”) facilitated medical evaluations on behalf of immigrants—found that 81.6% of individuals who received a forensic medical evaluation between 2008 and 2018 experienced some form of a positive immigration outcome. In comparison, immigration adjudictors only granted relief to asylum seekers an estimated 42.4% of the time
overall during this same period.

The significant impact of forensic medical evaluations in contributing to a favorable immigration outcome raises questions about whether adjudicators are holding immigrants to overly-stringent evidentiary standards by constructively creating norms that require immigrants to gain access to health professionals with the requisite training to evaluate them. To the extent such evaluations become essential to the successful outcome of the legal case, access to a medical evaluator may indeed translate into access to justice.

Keywords: Immigration, Asylum, Forensic Medicine, Medical-Legal Partnerships, Evidence

Suggested Citation

Arastu, Nermeen and Arastu, Nermeen, Access to a Doctor, Access to Justice? An Empirical Study on the Impact of Forensic Medical Examinations in Preventing Deportations (May 1, 2022). Harvard Human Rights Journal, Vol. 35, 2022, Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=4118011

Nermeen Arastu (Contact Author)

CUNY School of Law ( email )

2 Court Square
Long Island City, NY 11101
United States

CUNY School of Law ( email )

2 Court Square
Long Island City, NY 11101
United States

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