Asylum Project

The Princeton Asylum Project matches scholars with asylum cases in need of expert witnesses through a unique partnership between Catholic Charities Community Services, Archdiocese of New York (CCCS) and a student group based in ORL. The project is an opportunity for scholars to apply their expertise to serve practical needs and for the student research team to fulfill their vocational interests in service.


While the Sixth Amendment guarantees the right to counsel for criminal defendants, there is no corresponding constitutional right to counsel for defendants in civil proceedings, and asylum proceedings are under civil law. The asylum applicants themselves bear the burden to prove that they meet the legal definition of a refugee. To respond to this need, Asylum Project student researchers in the Asylum Project work with academic experts provide more detailed country and area-specific information relating to each case to ensure that the judge or asylum officer understands the extent of the applicant’s trauma and the individual impact of the applicant’s conditions. Our experts’ local expertise is necessary to demonstrate that an actual threat of the sort contemplated by asylum law exists for a particular applicant.
The Princeton Asylum project emerged from a conversation between CCCS and the leaders of the Religion and Forced Migration Initiative, recognizing the possibility of a partnership in which the expertise of scholars could genuinely help meet the needs of those seeking asylum.


Catholic Charities Community Services, Archdiocese of New York provides free legal services to indigent New York residents, including non-citizens applying for asylum affirmatively or defensively.

Princeton University’s Office of Religious Life works on the issue of forced migration as a singular crisis of our time and involves students in service opportunities that provide reflective and vocational training and experience.
The Student Research Team works to identify US-based scholars whose topic and country-specific research make them ideal experts for particular asylum cases. So far, these countries have included El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Ivory Coast, Nigeria, Ecuador, Colombia, Haiti, Angola, and Cameroon. Scholars who research topics such as ethnic discrimination, systemic intimate partner violence, gender-based violence, child forced labor, political corruption, gang violence, and the availability of mental health resources, are in particular demand.

Process and Objectives

The commitment for providing an affidavit is on a case-by-case basis, with minimal follow-up requirements on the scholar’s part. In addition, the project provides a student researcher from their team to aid in the research and drafting process if requested by the scholar acting as an expert witness. When a match is made and agreed upon (or when further information regarding project requirements is requested), the scholar and attorney assigned to the case are connected, and the attorney oversees logistics and timing moving forward.


For questions about the Princeton Asylum Project email Fernanda Romo at