Asylum Clinic

The Human Rights Initiative administers the VP&S Asylum Clinic, which provides pro bono medical evaluations to those seeking asylum in the United States. Founded in 2010, the clinic is composed of psychiatric, medical, and gynecological physicians, clinical social workers, psychologists, and other clinicians who have received training in identifying the physical and mental sequelae of abuse, torture, and trauma. After an evaluation, the physician will compose an affidavit outlining any symptoms and signs that are relevant to the client’s narrative. By providing independent medical examinations, the clinic provides valuable evidence as part of an asylum applicant’s legal case.

Currently, the U.S. asylum process does not guarantee applicants an independent medical evaluation, at times leaving them unable to demonstrate their need for asylum status. By connecting asylum seekers with legal and medical professionals, the Asylum Clinic seeks to overcome the barriers that asylum applicants face in accessing legal representation and navigating the immigration court system.

The Asylum Clinic is affiliated with Physicians for Human Rights, an international non-governmental organization committed to using medical expertise to document human rights abuses.

Medical students compose the board of CHRIA and direct all clinic activities, from physician recruitment to clinical administration. In clinic operations, students are supervised by attending physicians who have been trained in the medical evaluation process. Students assist in conducting the evaluation and writing the affidavit. Additionally, students can travel to court to see the outcome of their work.

For more information about us or to get involved with the Asylum Clinic, please contact us at chriaclinic@cumc.columbia.edu.


Asylum Clinic Case Flow

Phase 1: Case Assignment

  1. Clinic Directors (CDs) receive cases from Physicians for Human Rights (PHR) to place with clinicians.
  2. CDs recruit clinicians for each case via email listserv.
  3. Once a case is assigned a clinician, a Case Coordinator (CC) is also assigned to the case.
  4. The CC informs PHR of the clinician assigned to each case.

Phase 2: Pre-Evaluation Logistics

  1. PHR sends a joint case placement email to the clinician, CC, and attorney.
  2. The attorney and clinician set up the evaluation. CC finalizes time for the evaluation and ensures that all necessary materials, the interpreter, and client wishes are obtained from the attorney.
  3. The CC assigns trained students who are available at the time of evaluation to the case and provides relevant information.
  4. The CC connects students, attorney, and clinician and provides resources on conducting evaluations and writing affidavits.
  5. The CC confirms evaluation details with all parties 3–7 days prior to the evaluation.
  6. The evaluation takes place.

Phase 3: Post-Evaluation

  1. Students submit a draft affidavit within one week of the evaluation to the clinician and CC.
  2. The clinician edits the draft and returns it to students to finalize (iterative process).
  3. Students email final affidavit to the CC and copy the clinician.
  4. The CC emails final affidavit to the attorney and copies the clinician.
  5. The attorney replies with edits or comments, and the clinician decides what changes to make, if any (iterative process).
  6. The final affidavit is sent to the attorney and CC.
  7. The CC redacts names from the final affidavit and submits it to PHR.
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