By Lindsay Gray
1. Let them educate you
Asking the mental health expert who is evaluating or treating your client to explain things to you helps them articulate things in layman’s terms. This not only helps them explain things in a comprehensible way when they are writing an evaluation or testifying on behalf of your client, but it also helps you explain them in a cover letter or a closing argument to the judge. It also helps you craft direct examination questions with clear direction.
2. Be mindful that you need to educate them, too
When I send clients to a mental health professional for the purpose of their immigration case, I make a point to either chat with the expert beforehand or give my client a letter to give to the expert explaining why I am sending them and what they specifically should be evaluating, as well as things I would like them to address. For example, since most final decisions in immigration are discretionary, I usually ask them to address whether my client’s mental health issue has played into his previous criminal activity. If it’s a cancellation case, I ask the evaluator to opine as to how my client’s removal would affect the qualifying relative’s condition. This makes for relevant reports and it helps the evaluator ask the right questions.
3. Anticipate possible questions or objections
Oftentimes it is easy to spot what types of objections OCC will make in removal proceedings and likely USCIS would have similar concerns. Address them proactively. For example, they might bring up how the expert has only seen your client one time or how they never did follow-up treatment. In a case like that, it would be important to submit scholarly articles about how your client’s condition is diagnosed and also address why medical professions do not both evaluate and treat the same patient because it would be unethical.
4. Prepare your client (and build some trust) before they go to their appointment
Most people (especially grown men) likely don’t really consider the idea of going to a mental health professional and talking about their thoughts and feelings to be fun. And most probably don’t have any prior experience doing so. Talk through your client’s story with them in advance and give them ideas for things to be thinking about. For example, in a U visa domestic violence case, talk to them about how the relationship started and when it turned verbally abusive, then physical. Ask them how they sleep and if they jump now when they hear loud noises. If you have someone you work with regularly, tell your client how great they are. Hopefully that will put your client at ease, even if just a little bit.
5. Talk through their report and/or testimony
If the expert is willing, review their report and talk through how it might be clearer. If you don’t understand something, then USCIS or the judge likely won’t either. If they are testifying in court, go through your questions. The general rule is to never ask a question you don’t know the answer to. So if you’re not totally sure how they would answer something, ask them before they get on the stand. Surprises are generally not a good thing!
Having a mental health expert who can clearly articulate the issues can make or break your case. Please feel free to reach out to me if you want to process through the mental health issues before you reach out to an expert! My email is Lindsay@bgimmigration.com and phone is 314.226.1944.