Expert Witnessing

Dear Asylum Lawyers:


I get a request to work on a new case as an expert witness at least once a week. You generally have very compelling cases, and are dedicated to your asylum clients, whether you are a student, a full-time cause attorney, or a corporate lawyer taking on a pro-bono case in an effort to cleanse your soul. And while I empathize with your clients' situations, I have deeply ambivalent feelings about doing asylum work. The practice of asylum reinforces a narrative that I find profoundly offensive, in which other states and cultures are painted as egregious human rights offenders (which of course often states are, but never precisely following the simplistic narrative allowed by the stylized theater of the law and the court), and the United States, by contrast, is painted as a human rights savior--the asylum-granting land of justice. This contrasts with the reality in which the United States is often directly responsible for human rights abuses suffered by asylum applicants at the hands of foreign states. The U.S. federal court performance of asylum granting ritually exculpates it for this role.

I have a full-time job, and spend the equivalent of another full-time job in solidarity work that I do find meaningful, legitimate and effective. Given how little I believe individual asylum cases can actually do in terms of directly challenging the political causes of human rights violations in Honduras, acting as an expert witness has remained a low priority for me. That said, I have taken on a few cases a year for the past decade. And as you know (if you are one of the people writing me requesting my help), a majority of the clients for whom I have testified on gang, domestic abuse, homophobic, transphobic, and other forms of persecution in Honduras have been granted asylum. In general the cases that interest me the most are those that directly involve applicants persecuted in relation to their political activism.

So if you are writing me requesting help, chances are the answer will be no.

Respectfully yours,
Adrienne Pine