Psychological Evaluations in Immigration Court: Considerations for Mental Health Professionals

Psychological Evaluations in Immigration Court: Considerations for Mental Health Professionals


10 Hours | 10 CEs (CEUs)


Program Description

This self-paced training program on Psychological Evaluations in Immigration Court: Considerations for Mental Health Professionals is presented by Dr. Virginia Barber-Rioja.

About 11 million immigrants in the U.S. are undocumented and it is estimated that about 15% of those in immigration detention suffer from a psychiatric disorder (Human Rights Watch, 2010). Political instability around the globe and increased violence in Central America, paired with tougher immigration policies like family separation, are all expected to increase the rates of mental health symptoms in immigrants and refugees. This highlights the important role that mental health professionals can play in the immigration court system. Mental health experts can aid immigration judges in making deportation decisions in a number of ways based on the type of relief from removal that immigrants are applying for. Persecution-based applications are based on fear of persecution and torture (i.e., asylum), and often involve the assessment of trauma related symptoms or Post-traumatic Stress Disorder. Discretion-based applications can involve the evaluation of the hardship that will be suffered by the immigrant or their family if deported. Evaluations for immigration court are considered a type of forensic mental health assessment, and require expertise in both forensic and cross-cultural psychology. In addition, these evaluations present with particular challenges as immigration law is rapidly changing, the referral questions are not always clear, and appropriate testing instruments are limited.

The goal of this training program is to provide students and mental health professionals with knowledge about the legal context of immigration court and the different types of relief available to undocumented immigrants, and to review general considerations in the process of conducting evaluations in immigration proceedings.

Intended Audience

This training program is intended for mental health and allied professionals, including psychologists, social workers, and counselors. This training program is for beginner, intermediate, and advanced level clinicians.

Upon completion of this training program, participants should be able to:


  • Describe the legal context of mental health evaluations conducted for immigration court.
  • Describe the different forms of relief available to undocumented non-citizens in the U.S. and the related psycholegal issues, including competency to participate in immigration proceedings.
  • Describe other relevant forensic issues in immigration court, such as competency, violence risk assessment and malingering.
  • Describe the challenges of cross-cultural assessment, specifically the assessment of PTSD, intellectual disabilities, and symptom validity in individuals from a different culture.
  • Describe the different areas of professional competency for mental health professionals who conduct evaluations in immigration court.

About Dr. Virginia Barber-Riojas

Dr. Virginia Barber-Riojas earned her Ph.D to the Clinical Psychology at John Jay Training Area, a discipline within the Graduate Center’s PhD Program in Psychology, in 2009. Upon graduation, she became the Clinical Director of Queens TASC Mental Health Diversion program, an alternative to incarceration program that works in collaboration with the Queens Mental Health Court, the District Attorney’s office and the defense bar. In this position, she helped reshape the program into a clinically informed diversion program that utilized testing and evidence-based risk assessments to aid the courts with eligibility decisions. She subsequently worked for three years as an attending psychologist in the Forensic Inpatient Unit of Bellevue Hospital Center, which provides treatment and assessment to incarcerated individuals with acute psychiatric conditions. In 2012, Dr. Barber Rioja became the Clinical Director of EAC Network’s Brooklyn and Staten Island court mental health diversion programs and jail and prison re-entry programs. In this job, she helped developed the Staten Island Mental Health Court, as well as a prison re-entry program for individuals with Severe Mental Illness. While in this position, Dr. Barber Rioja became a member of the Mayor’s Task Force on Behavioral Health and Criminal Justice, providing consultation for diversion initiatives and specifically for implementation of evidence-based violence risk assessment and management for some of the Mayor’s initiatives, such as NYC Safe. She has also served as a consultant on this topic to the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene.

With the goal of bringing knowledge of forensic psychology to applied audiences, Dr. Barber Rioja provides a great deal of teaching in the community, which entails training behavioral health providers who serve justice-involved individuals, probation and parole officers, defense attorneys, prosecutors and judges across NYC. As a faculty member of the Center of Urban Community Services (CUCS)’s legal academy, Dr. Barber Rioja has provided trainings on violence risk assessment and clinically informed diversion to prosecutors, defense attorneys and judges in all boroughs. She also serves as faculty for the Practicing Law Institute, a non-profit continuing legal education organization that organizes and provides CLE programs around the world. She currently serves as a faculty in the Department of Psychiatry of New York University School of Medicine where she has provided clinical supervision to psychology interns and didactics to psychiatry fellows, and as an adjunct professor in the Psychology Masters Program of New York University. Dr. Barber Rioja also maintains a private forensic practice involving immigration, state and federal court cases. Over the years, she has developed a particular interest in improving practice standards for psychological evaluations in immigration proceedings; she has consulted with immigration attorneys and provided trainings in this topic.

Dr. Barber Rioja is currently a member of the American Psychological Association’s Committee on Legal Issues (COLI), and a board member of the International Association of Therapeutic Jurisprudence. She has published and presented workshops on the topics of criminal justice diversion, implementation of risk assessment instruments in special jurisdiction courts, and psychological evaluations in the context of immigration proceedings. She has served as an ad hoc reviewer for the International Journal of Forensic Mental Health, Law and Human Behavior, Revista Criminalidad (Colombia), and European Journal of Forensic Mental Health.

On May 2, 2016, Dr. Barber Rioja became the Clinical Director of Correctional Health Services (CHS) of the New York City Health and Hospitals. The New York City jail system is the second largest in the nation, with approximately 10,000 individuals aged 16 years of age and older incarcerated at any given time in 12 facilities. Approximately 25% of admissions will receive mental health services through CHS. In this position, Dr. Barber Rioja is responsible for the overall clinical oversight, management, supervision and innovative development of the approximately 250 non-medical clinical staff, largely comprised of supervisory and line psychologists, mental health clinicians, social workers, art therapists, and treatment aides.

Course Outline

The goal of this training program is to provide students and mental health professionals with knowledge about:

  • Legal context
  • Immigration court
  • Types of relief
  • General considerations
  • Here’s what others are saying about this training:

    “Dr. Barber-Rioja was very informative. I really learned a great deal from this presentation and very interested in more trainings on this topic. Thank you!”

    “Presenter had clear knowledge of the matter and experience. Presentation was excellent. Great speaker”

    “I loved the case examples provided and the way the content was organized and presented in a digestible manner”

    Continuing Education Credit

    This Distance Learning Course is a Home Study Training Program. To earn CEs you are required to complete all course materials, quizzes, and the evaluation. No partial credit is available. A score of 70% is required to proceed; you will be able to re-take any quiz on which you score less than 70%. Participants will earn 10 CE hours upon completion of these requirements. Each participant will be able to download and print the CE certificate upon completion of the final evaluation.

    Board Approvals: APA, ASWB, CPA, NBCC. Click here for state and other regional board approvals.

    Your satisfaction with our programs, products and services is important to us; however, because these are immediately made available to you upon registration and payment, we do not issue refunds. Should you find that a particular program, product or service is not the right fit for you, we will assist you in crediting your registration towards another one of our offerings that might better suit you.

    We specialize in training groups — from a handful to hundreds — and are happy to contact you to discuss your group training needs.

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