Classification of Status
Persons already in the United States may seek asylum if they are unable or unwilling to return to their home country due to persecution or a well-founded fear of persecution based on race, religion, nationality, membership in a particular social group, or political opinion. Those granted asylum are able to live and work in the United States. One year after the granting of asylum they may apply for permanent resident status.
Refugee status may be requested by persons outside the United States who are unable or unwilling to return to their home country due to persecution or a well-founded fear of persecution based on race, religion, nationality, membership in a particular social group, or political opinion. Typically a person must already be outside their home country to be eligible for refugee status, although a few exceptions apply. Each year the United States resettles a limited number of refugees based on specifications made by the United States government or referrals made by the United Nations High Commissioner on Refugees (UNHCR) or a U.S. Embassy.
The Detainee Treatment Act of 2005 (DTA)
Part of the Department of Defense Appropriations Act of 2006 (Title X, H.R. 2863), the Act prohibits the “cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment” (acts that violate the Fifth, Eighth, and Fourteenth Amendments) of detainees and provides for “uniform standards” for interrogation (it limits the military to interrogation techniques authorized by the Army Field Manual). The Act also removed the federal courts’ jurisdiction over detainees seeking to challenge the legality of their detention, stating that “no court, justice or judge shall have jurisdiction to hear or consider” applications on behalf of Guantanamo detainees.
Fifth, Eighth and Fourteenth Amendments to the Constitution of the United States of America
The Supreme Court has stated that the protection of human dignity is a primary function of the Fifth, Eighth and Fourteenth Amendments, and that violations of “human dignity” can be unconstitutional even absent any pain or injury. The Supreme Court has long considered prisoner treatment to violate the Fifth and Fourteenth Amendments if the treatment “shocks the conscience.” The Eighth Amendment standards have been incorporated into the Fifth and Fourteenth Amendment due process analysis by the Court, which determined that individuals detained by the state who have not been convicted by a court enjoy at least the same level of rights as convicted criminals do.
The Geneva Conventions are a series of four international treaties (and three additional protocols) that set the standards in international law for humanitarian treatment of the victims of war. Ratifying States agree to protect vulnerable and defenseless individuals during times of war. Established in 1949, the Conventions cover armed forces on land and sea, prisoners of war, and civilians, and aim to reduce the suffering of those inflicted with sickness, wounds, or those in captivity, regardless of whether or not they have taken direct part in the conflict. The Geneva Conventions created a protective status for the emblem of a red cross on a white background, which to this day is used to signify protection of medical personnel and materials covered by the Conventions.
Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act of 1996
The 1996 Act constricted the asylum process, especially for those asserting an asylum claim at the port of entry, in several ways. Since the enactment of a restrictive 1996 immigration law and new restrictions after September 11, 2001, most asylum seekers arriving without proper documentation are imprisoned with little opportunity for judicial review and with increased frequency, some remaining in detention for months or even years. The law’s expedited removal mechanism gives an immigration inspector the power to deport any non-citizen who arrives at any port of entry with either false or no documents, a power previously entrusted only to trained immigration judges. The law calls for, but does not make mandatory, detention of asylum seekers after they pass out of the expedited removal mechanism. Additionally, the law instituted a one-year filing deadline that stipulates that asylum seekers must file their application within a year, with limited exceptions, or lose their chance for asylum. Many immigrants are unaware of this technicality.
The Torture Act
(18 U.S.C. §§ 2340 and 2340A) Also known by its longer form title, the Torture Convention Implementation Act of 1994, the Torture Act implements the United States’ obligation under the UNCAT to criminalize acts of torture, subject to the United States’ reservation that it interprets its obligations in accordance with U.S. Constitutional standards. The Torture Act’s definition of “torture” requires that an individual specifically intend that his act inflict severe physical or mental pain and criminalizes conduct by U.S. nationals that occurs outside the United States.
United Nations Convention Against Torture (UNCAT)
The convention was adopted and opened for signature and ratification by the General Assembly on December 10, 1984, and it came into force on June 26, 1987. UNCAT prohibits torture, as well as cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment, committed by state actors or those acting with the consent or acquiescence of the state, “for the purpose of obtaining information or a confession, or to punish on suspicion of a crime, or to intimidate or coerce.” UNCAT does not permit the use of torture in any “exceptional circumstances whatsoever, whether a state of war or a threat of war, internal political instability or any other public emergency.”
War Crimes Act (WCA)
The WCA criminalizes “torture” and “cruel or inhuman treatment.” Amended by the MCA to criminalize defined “grave breaches” of Common Article 3, the WCA applies to acts committed “inside or outside the United States” in any circumstance “where the person committing such war crime or the victim of such war crime is a member of the Armed Forces of the United States or a national of the United States.” To date, no individual has been prosecuted under the WCA.
Bipolar disorder is a serious mental illness in which people experience extended periods of overly energetic or irritably mood, known mania, interspersed with periods of depression and feelings of sadness and hopelessness. Bipolar disorder can run in families, and usually starts in late adolescence or early adulthood.
Depression is a serious medical illness where the person experiences intense sadness, melancholia or despair that has advanced to the point of being disruptive to an individual’s social functioning and/or activities of daily living. Symptoms can include sadness, loss of interest or pleasure in activities previously enjoyed, weight change, difficulty sleeping or oversleeping, energy loss, feelings of worthlessness, and thoughts of death or suicide. Extreme depression can culminate in its sufferers attempting or committing suicide.
Peritraumatic Dissociation (i.e. amnesia, depersonalization, and derealization)
Peritraumatic dissociation is characterized by disassociative responses that occur at the time of trauma, such as depersonalization, derealization, amnesia, or fugue states. Theorists suggest that it is a defensive process in which an individual develops the capacity to separate himself from the psychic and physical pain associated with exposure to trauma. This disassociative capacity is thought to be later used by the individual in future painful circumstances such as activated trauma memories to down-regulate the experience of acute psychological stress.
Posttraumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)
PTSD is a term for certain severe psychological consequences of exposure to stressful, highly traumatic events. Clinically, such events involve actual or threatened death, serious physical injury, or a threat to physical and/or psychological
integrity, to a degree that usual psychological defenses are incapable of coping with the impact. PTSD symptoms can include the following: nightmares, flashbacks, emotional detachment or numbing of feelings (dissociation), insomnia, avoidance of triggers, loss of appetite, irritability, hypervigilance, memory loss, excessive startle response, depression, and anxiety. It is also possible for a person suffering from PTSD to exhibit clinical depression (or bipolar disorder), general anxiety disorder, and a variety of addictions. PTSD may be triggered by violent personal assaults, natural or human-caused disasters, accidents, or military combat.
is a generic psychiatric term for a mental state involving a loss of contact with reality. It is a mental disorder, with or without organic damage, characterized by derangement of personality and loss of contact with reality and causing deterioration of normal social functioning. People experiencing a psychotic episode may report hallucinations or delusional beliefs (e.g., grandiose or paranoid delusions), and may exhibit personality changes and disorganized thinking. Psychosis is a loss of contact with reality, typically including delusions (false ideas about what is taking place or who one is) and hallucinations (seeing or hearing things which aren’t there), an impairment in the ability to carry out daily activities.
Psychotropic medications are used to exert an effect on a person’s mental state and are mostly commonly used in treating mental disorders. Psychotropic medications act by inducing changes on consciousness, emotions, mood, or behavior.
Schizophrenia is a severe, lifelong mental disorder. Individuals with schizophrenia may experience unusual thoughts or perceptions, movement disorders, difficulty speaking or expressing emotion, and problems with organization, memory, and attention. Individuals may also experience delusions or visual and auditory hallucinations. Medicines can relieve many of the symptoms, but it can be difficult to find the correct medication.
Somatization disorder is a chronic condition where physical symptoms are caused by psychological problems, and no underlying physical problem can be identified. The disorder is marked by multiple physical complaints that persist for years, involving any body system. Most frequently, the complaints involve chronic pain and problems with the digestive system, the nervous system, and the reproductive system. The symptoms often are severe enough to interfere with work and relationships.
CIA: Central Intelligence Agency
CIDT: Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading Treatment
DoD: Department of Defense
DTA: Detainee Treatment Act of 2005
FBI: Federal Bureau of Investigation
HRF: Human Rights First
ICRC: International Committee of the Red Cross
OLC: Office of Legal Counsel, Department of Justice
PHR: Physicians for Human Rights
POW: Prisoner of War
PTSD: Posttraumatic Stress Disorder
SOP: Standard Operating Procedure
TVPA: Torture Victims Protection Act of 1991
WCA: War Crimes Act
ICE: Immigration and Customs Enforcement