There are many benefits of living in New York City: breathtaking sights, delicious $1 pizza, and…free legal assistance to citizens in need.
This summer, I am interning at the Legal Aid Society in their Immigration Law Unit (ILU). The Legal Aid Society provides pro-bono legal representation to impoverished citizens of all five boroughs of New York City. In my opinion, the Legal Aid Society and its positive relationship with NYC is an exemplary model of legal practice that other states and cities should adopt. Not only is it fundamentally just to provide an avenue for individuals of all walks of life to access adequate legal support, but it contributes to a more socially just world. For one, it helps disrupt the criminalization of poverty that often leads to the incarceration of individuals of lower incomes who are, consequently, disproportionately of certain races. In this way and many more, the Legal Aid Society stands at the intersection of social justice and law.
I chose to intern with the Legal Aid Society because of how the organization applies the social justice lens to its everyday legal practices. Furthermore, I chose to intern specifically with the Immigration Law Unit because of my prior experience in and passion for working with immigrants through The Right to Immigration Institute (TRII) in Waltham, MA. I have loved interning in the ILU. The Unit works with a wide range of immigrants under a wide range of circumstances, including asylum seekers, DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrival) recipients, and individuals facing deportation and inadmissibility charges. The vastness of circumstances this unit specializes in conveys the magnitude and complexity of immigration law. That’s one thing I love about this line of work–everyday I am learning something interesting and new.
The Legal Aid Society traditionally only offers internships to law students, so my experience as the only undergraduate makes my internship, in many ways, unconventional. For one, I am working alongside a paralegal rather than an attorney. As a result, I am understandably more distanced from casework and have yet to be in a courtroom. So far, I mostly meet with DACA recipients to renew their status. I have around two or three of these meetings every day. Despite my frustration with the current state of DACA and the responsibility that comes with conducting renewals, this is my favorite aspect of my work here. I love directly helping and interacting with immigrants. When I am not doing renewal meetings, I am often inputting client data into a system called Law Manager or completing projects that attorneys or paralegals need help with. For example, I completed a criminal history chart for the attorney-in-charge of the Unit. That was a new experience for me and was a great way to ask questions of someone very knowledgeable in the field.
I have already learned so many important things at my internship, some pragmatic and some personal. Even though my internship is only eight weeks long, I believe that the knowledge and lessons acquired here are broadly applicable to every aspect of my life. Sure, knowledge about immigration law is more useful in some contexts than in others, but my deepened empathy for immigrants and any American who is stigmatized, underrepresented, and neglected solidifies my own personal desire to continually fight for civil rights and equal treatment. This has implications in every facet of my life and can manifest in many forms, including combating everyday micro-aggressions, improving the political sphere and public policy, and promoting empathy in my interpersonal relationships and in educational discourse. By practicing empathy in my day-to-day life, I know that even after the conclusion of my summer internship, I will be exercising the Legal Aid Society’s greater mission and carrying on their legacy.
-Alison Hagani ’22