Practicing Asylum brings together experienced expert witnesses and immigration attorneys to highlight best practices and strategies for giving expert testimony in asylum cases. As the scale and severity of violence in Latin America has grown in the last decade, scholars and attorneys have collaborated to defend the rights of immigrant women, children, and LGBTQ+ persons who are threatened by gender-based, sexual, and gang violence in their home countries. Researchers in anthropology, history, political science, and sociology have regularly supported the work of immigration lawyers and contributed to public debates on immigration reform, but the academy contains untapped scholarly expertise that, guided by the resources provided in this handbook, can aid asylum seekers and refugees and promote the fair adjudication of asylum claims in US courts. As the recent refugee crisis of immigrant mothers and children and unaccompanied minors has made clear, there is an urgent need for academics to work with other professionals to build a legal framework and national network that can respond effectively to this human rights crisis.

Kimberly Gauderman is Associate Professor of Latin American History at the University of New Mexico and editor of Practicing Asylum.

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The following passage is excerpted from the introduction of Practicing Asylum.

Although this handbook was created in the context of the Trump administration’s wholesale assault on asylum, it goes beyond these changes to address the long-standing and continuing need for readily available and effective expert witness testimony in the asylum system. Country conditions expert witnesses are positioned to provide critical support, through written affidavits and live hearing testimony, that may confirm on what grounds the applicant may seek protection, based on evidence of the types of violence that exist in the country of origin. In particular, over the past ten to fifteen years, scholars and legal professionals have increasingly collaborated to defend the rights of women, children, LGBTQ+ persons, and others who have experienced gender-based, sexuality-based, and gang violence in their home countries. Observing almost daily the lack of trained expert witnesses for this important work, the collaborators in this volume set out to compile a record of best practices for engaging, training, employing, and increasing the efficacy of the work of academics as expert witnesses in order to respond effectively to the ever-increasing number of asylum cases and to the heightened burden for applicants to document their status and vulnerability to persecution in their home countries. What followed were a series of conversations, held in multiple academic and legal professional venues, and a lengthy workshop and editing project led by Kimberly Gauderman.

Our objective in this volume is to build on the ongoing cooperation between legal service providers and scholars engaged in asylum work and to offer an interdisciplinary, scholarly, and practical guide to current and future practitioners in this growing field. We center the practice of expert witness testimony within the exigencies of the academy, which requires scholars to exercise disciplinary rigor in their fields of expertise and to navigate institutional standards that recognize scholarly achievement and determine criteria for promotion. Acknowledging these tensions inherent in community-engaged scholarship, the book’s chapters address how to establish expertise as a country conditions witness through teaching and research; how disciplinary expertise intersects with legal argumentation; and how our labor as expert witnesses balances with and fulfills institutional requirements for teaching, research, and service.

This volume also offers practical instruction for drafting affidavits, communicating with legal professionals, preparing for oral testimony in hearings, and handling the specific challenges of working with applicants in detention centers. The appendixes offer guidance for affidavits and agreements between expert witnesses and legal service providers. Finally, the volume offers an analysis of gender-based, sexuality-based, and gang violence in Latin America; a discussion of persecution on account of gender identity and/or sexual orientation; a history of U.S. immigration and asylum laws; and discussion of the emotional challenges and secondary trauma that may have an impact on expert witnesses and legal professionals working with individuals who have experienced high levels of violence in their home countries. These topics provide a context for expert witness testimony that will allow practitioners to adapt to shifting criteria for refugee status and present a multidisciplinary perspective on how the normalization and dismissal of gender-based and sexuality-based violence not only forces people to flee their homes, but continues to endanger them within the asylum system itself.