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The Asylum Process: Interdisciplinary Responses to Multifaceted Challenges

Original Publication Date: September 27, 2023
Last Updated: September 28, 2023


Offered in partnership with the National Consortium of Torture Treatment Programs, this half-day training focused on the complexities of the asylum process from both a legal and therapeutic standpoint. Attendees were made aware of some of the basics of asylum law, as well as recent changes and the “shifting sands” of policy. A panel of legal, clinical, and policy experts discussed the challenges associated with providing therapeutic services for recently arrived asylum seekers as well as those who have been in the US for many years and are stuck in the affirmative asylum backlog. Best practices for doing asylum evaluations – whether a one-time biopsychosocial evaluation, or an evaluation provided by a treating clinician – were also covered. Lastly, they spoke about advocacy; both for people and programs who are new to the field, as well as current stakeholders in our community who are pushing forward in specified areas.

Learning Objectives

After attending this webinar participants will be able to:


Some of the information contained in these presentations may be specific about survivors’ experiences and may be difficult to hear. We believe it is important to acknowledge and bear in mind that learning about torture can be a challenging experience. It can be particularly difficult to confront and think about the experiences of torture survivors when one has not had much prior exposure to human rights violations and their consequences. People have a wide range of reactions to hearing about torture and its effects, including disbelief/denial, anger, dismay, sadness, emotional numbness, speechlessness, disgust, hopelessness, and despair. It is important to know that these are all normal responses to torture as a phenomenon that is intentionally designed to horrify and terrorize people. We encourage you to attend to your own reactions throughout this series of presentations and to take care of yourself as needed. For example, you may step away from the session, returning when you feel more comfortable. If you would like to share your thoughts, feelings, questions, or concerns regarding the information shared here, please email Hawthorne Smith, PhD, at [email protected].

The information contained in this training is educational and intended for informational purposes only. It does not constitute legal advice, nor does it substitute for legal advice. The information provided is of a general nature and may not apply to your particular circumstances. Before taking any action, it is recommended that you check with an independent, trained, and licensed attorney in the appropriate jurisdiction to ensure compliance with the law.

This training institute was made possible by a grant from the Office of Refugee Resettlement. The National Capacity Building Project is a project of The Center for Victims of Torture. No official endorsement by ORR, DHHS, or CVT for the information contained in this training is intended or should be inferred.


Clint Carney, JD, is the Government Affairs Manager at Survivors of Torture, International in San Diego. Clint leads the advocacy and government relations efforts of SURVIVORS, which provides healing services to torture survivors from more than 90 countries, speaking more than 60 languages. Clint coordinates advocacy efforts on policies and programs impacting torture survivors, and he participates in several immigration-focused organizations supporting refugees and asylum seekers. Clint also coordinates advocacy mentorship and training for survivors who wish to continue their advocacy for human rights issues as they had done in their home country. Before joining SURVIVORS, Clint held government and public affairs positions for more than 20 years focusing on public and private issues, and he was a board member and government affairs advocate for Alliance for HOPE International and its technical support programs developing co-located multi-agency domestic violence service centers, training on the forensics and prosecution of strangulation crimes, mentorship and STEAM development programs for child survivors of domestic violence, and community-building events for survivors.of mental health measures in minority and underserved populations.  

Walter Fendrich, LCSW-R, is the Clinical Director at the Libertas Center. Mr. Fendrich received his MSW from Hunter College School of Social Work, City University of New York in 1997. Through his professional work with the culturally diverse populations at the American Red Cross, Safe Horizon, and the EHC Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology, Mr. Fendrich has extensive experience working with immigrants and refugees, providing culturally sensitive counseling for a variety of trauma related mental health issues.

Katherine C. McKenzie, MD, FACP, is a faculty member at Yale School of Medicine and the director of the Yale Center for Asylum Medicine (YCAM).  She has practiced medicine at Yale for over 25 years. She teaches undergraduates, students, and residents, and is a member of Yale Refugee Health Program. She is a physician advocate for social justice and human rights.

Dr. McKenzie founded and directs YCAM. In this capacity, she has performed forensic evaluations of asylum seekers at Yale and in detention facilities, and has testified as an expert witness in immigration court for individuals referred by law schools, human rights organizations, and immigration attorneys. She leads the asylum medicine teaching program for trainees and faculty at Yale, mentors healthcare providers across the US, and lectures extensively nationally and internationally on topics of asylum, detention, and physician advocacy. She is an expert advisor for Physicians for Human Rights and serves on the boards of the Society for Refugee Healthcare Providers, Project Access New Haven, and Integrated Refugee and Immigrants Services. She is involved in medical-legal partnerships and collaborates with attorneys on civil litigation that supports human rights. She is a founder and director of the Society of Asylum Medicine.

She has written reviews, clinical case reports, and opinion essays in publications including the New England Journal of Medicine, the Journal of the American Medical Association, the Journal of General Internal Medicine, the British Medical Journal, Time magazine and CNN, among many others. At Yale, she received the Leonard B. Tow Award for Humanism in Medicine and the Faculty Award for Achievement in Clinical Care. She has been named a “Top Doctor” for many years by Connecticut Magazine.  She is a Fellow of the American College of Physicians and has been certified with the American Board of Internal Medicine since 1995.

Dominique Quevedo, JD, MSW, is the Managing Attorney of the Immigration Access Workgroup at the Legal Aid Foundation of Los Angeles (LAFLA), which represents survivors of violence in affirmative hearings, removal proceedings and applications before U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services. Ms. Quevedo began her career at LAFLA over 15 years ago and has held a number of positions within the Foundation, such as the managing attorney of two of three courthouse-based domestic violence clinics. She has spoken at local and national conferences regarding immigration law, trauma-informed lawyering and vicarious trauma in the legal aid profession.

In 2013, Ms. Quevedo was honored by End Abuse Long Beach for her representation of and commitment to families impacted by domestic violence. She is also the recipient of the 2009 CSULB President’s Commission on the Status of Women and the Department of Women’s Gender and Sexuality Studies Lilian Robles Award for her legal advocacy efforts.

Ms. Quevedo received her JD from Loyola Law School and her Master’s Degree in Social Welfare from UCLA.rights.

Scott Roehm, JD, MA, is the Washington director of the Center for Victims of Torture and an adjunct professor of law at Georgetown Law School. He was previously vice president of programs and policy at The Constitution Project, where he oversaw the organization’s national security and criminal justice portfolios. Before joining The Constitution Project, Scott served as the special counsel for pro bono at Orrick, Herrington & Sutcliffe LLP.

Scott has also worked with Truth and Reconciliation Commissions in Monrovia, Liberia and Greensboro, North Carolina. Scott holds a JD from Fordham Law School and a master’s in international affairs with a specialization in human rights from Columbia University.

Jonathan Ryan, JD, is an attorney in private practice and the founder of the nonprofit organization, Advokato, which advocates on behalf of immigrants and refugees. Jonathan started his legal career as a staff attorney with American Gateways, launching the first Know Your Rights program for immigrants detained at the for-profit ICE detention center in Pearsall, TX. From 2008 to 2021 he served as CEO and President of RAICES. Jonathan currently serves as counsel to the Center for Survivors of Torture and represents numerous CST clients in their immigration cases.

Hawthorne Smith, PhD, is a licensed psychologist and the Director of the Bellevue Program for Survivors of Torture. He is also an Associate Clinical Professor at the NYU School of Medicine in the Department of Psychiatry. Dr. Smith received his doctorate in Counseling Psychology (with distinction) from Teachers College; Columbia University. Dr. Smith had previously earned a Bachelor of Science in Foreign Service from the Georgetown University School of Foreign Service, an advanced certificate in African Studies from Cheikh Anta Diop University in Dakar, Senegal, as well as a Masters in International Affairs from the Columbia University School of International and Public Affairs. Among his clinical duties, Dr. Smith has facilitated a support group for French-speaking African survivors of torture for the past 25 years. He also speaks extensively at professional conferences and seminars on providing clinical services for survivors of socio-political violence, and enhancing cross-cultural clinical skills among therapeutic service providers. Dr. Smith has been recognized for his work with such awards as: the Robin Hood Foundation’s “Hero Award”; the “Frantz Fanon Award” from the Postgraduate Center for Mental Health; the “W.E.B. DuBois Award” from the International Youth Leadership Institute; the “Distinguished Alumni – Early Career Award” from Teachers College; the “Man of Distinction Award” from the National Association of Health Service Executives; the “Union Square Award for Community Advocacy” from the Fund for the City of New York; and a “Humanitarian Award” from the Cousul General of the Republic of Haiti.

Prior to coming to Bellevue, Dr. Smith was a youth counselor to “court involved youth” in Washington, DC during the height of the crack epidemic. He then coordinated care at a shelter for homeless families in San Francisco prior to, and in the aftermath of, the 1989 earthquake. Dr. Smith was also a co-founding member of Nah We Yone, Inc. (a non-profit organization working primarily with refugees from Sierra Leone, as well as other displaced Africans in New York), and helped to coordinate the International Youth Leadership Institute (IYLI), a leadership program for marginalized New York City teens. Currently, Dr. Smith provides forensic evaluations, human rights consultations, and mitigation services on capital cases for private legal firms and public entities such as the US Department of Defense and the US Office of the Federal Defender. Dr. Smith is also a professional musician (saxophonist and vocalist) with national and international experience.  

Mr. Wilkinson is the Director of Legal Services at PSOT. He has served as a U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ)-Accredited Representative with the program since 2011.  He represents clients in their applications for asylum, family reunification, permanent residency, citizenship, employment authorization, green card lottery, and refugee travel documents. In addition, he identifies and refers clients for Pro Bono legal representation and services. He serves as a contact point for lawyers requesting documentation for clients they are representing from the Program. He also provides legal orientation sessions to new clients and staff.

Mr. Wilkinson has served as a job developer for refugees, as a social service provider for African immigrant families, and as a paralegal for an immigration attorney. For eight years, he also worked as a development specialist for international agencies and the Peace Corps in Senegal and the Democratic Republic of the Congo, and several other countries in West Africa. He speaks French and Wolof. He holds a Master’s Degree in International Administration from the School for International Training in Brattleboro, Vermont. Mr. Wilkinson has been with the Program since 2000.

Sessions Included in the Training