Development and Validation of a Standardized Instrument to Assess Competency in Immigration Court

Maria Aparcero Suero, Fordham University


Identifying immigration court respondents with mental illness who are unable to meaningfully participate in their cases is key to preserve their procedural due process rights. Since the enactment of the Matter of M-A-M (2011) standard, immigration judges have increasingly relied on mental health professionals to assess immigrants’ competence to participate and represent themselves in immigration court proceedings. However, to date, there is no standard of practice or specialized assessment instrument to guide the evaluation of competency in immigration court. At present, evaluators are responsible for interpreting the legal standard and developing their evaluation procedures. This study examined the psychometric properties of an adaptation of the Fitness Interview Test-Revised (FIT-R; Roesch et al., 2006) for use in immigration court, the Fitness Interview Test-Immigration Court (FIT-IC), in a sample of 62 Spanish-speaking immigrants. Feedback from seven mental health experts was also obtained to assess the content validity of the FIT-IC. It was hypothesized that the FIT-IC would display good content validity, interrater reliability, and internal consistency. It was also hypothesized that performance on the FIT-IC would be associated with acculturation, symptoms of mental illness (i.e., psychotic, depressive, and posttraumatic symptoms), and intellectual functioning. The study findings showed that the FIT-IC had strong content validity, with mental health experts considering that all FIT-IC items addressed relevant psycholegal abilities for establishing a respondent’s competence. The FIT-IC items and sections also demonstrated moderate to excellent interrater reliability. However, the FIT-IC sections failed to display good internal consistency. Regarding the correlates of performance on the FIT-IC, acculturation to U.S. culture was significantly associated with more factual understanding of immigration court proceedings (Section I), but only after removing questions about understanding the concept of competency from Item 2. Performance on the FIT-IC was not significantly associated with intellectual functioning, psychotic, or depressive symptoms. Contrary to expectations, there was a significant correlation between PTSD symptoms and more understanding of legal rights and possible consequences of the proceedings (Section II). Although more research is needed with a larger sample of immigrants with severe mental illness, the FIT-IC holds promise as a new competency assessment instrument for immigration court.

Subject Area

Clinical psychology|Multicultural Education|Psychobiology

Recommended Citation

Aparcero Suero, Maria, "Development and Validation of a Standardized Instrument to Assess Competency in Immigration Court" (2023). ETD Collection for Fordham University. AAI30573796.