VIAA provides legal services for survivors of torture. Most of VIAA’s asylum cases involve survivors of torture.
The New England Survivors of Torture and Trauma (NESTT) program was designed to coordinate and meet the psychological, legal, social, and physical needs of survivors of torture and their families/communities. The NESTT program represents a direct partnership between psychological (Connecting Cultures and the Behaviorial Therapy and Psychotherapy Center at the University of Vermont) and legal (Vermont Immigration and Asylum Advocates) services. The overall goal is to provide a ‘nest’ in which survivors of torture receive holistic, integrated and effective services in a culturally relevant, client centered context.
For survivors of torture who are in need of legal protection in the US, the stress of navigating the complex and unpredictable US asylum and immigration system is compounded by past traumas, fears of authority figures, recounting painful stories over and over, and the uncertainty of the outcome of an asylum claim.
The Immigration and Nationality Act states that a person is eligible for a discretionary grant of asylum (INA §208, 8 U.S.C.§1158) if they have suffered past persecution or have a well founded fear of future persecution on account of their race, religion, nationality, membership in a particular social group, or political opinion. However, the legal process to gain protection through asylum is extremely difficult to navigate.
The US Government Accountability Office (GAO) reports that the chance for a favorable outcome in an affirmative asylum claim increases from 12% for cases that are unrepresented to 39% for cases that are represented by a lawyer or a legal advocate (GAO report on US Asylum System, September, 2008). Therefore, the assistance of expert legal services, such as those that VIAA provides, is especially crucial for asylum applicants in achieving a successful outcome in their petition for asylum, and ultimately protection in the United States.
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