This summer, I’m interning virtually (from my home in Reno, Nevada) with The Right to Immigration Institute (TRII), a non-profit organization based in Waltham, Massachusetts. TRII provides pro bono immigration legal services to non-citizens seeking citizenship, asylum, a green card, or a visa. TRII also provides humanitarian assistance in the form of advocating for clients in housing, employment, and school matters, and referring clients to organizations which specialize in rent assistance, access to warm clothes, and food. In order to reach those in need within the Waltham community, TRII is frequently involved in community outreach (tabling at various community events), popular education, and know-your-rights sessions.
I first learned about TRII at one of Brandeis’s volunteer events at the beginning of the year, where I met some of TRII’s student volunteers who introduced me to the organization. Before I knew it, I had begun a six-month intensive legal training offered by TRII, intended to train those who took it to become certified as Department of Justice Accredited Representatives. In addition to learning about U.S. immigration history, various types of immigration relief, filling out specific immigration forms, court etiquette, legal jargon, and the intimacies of client work, we were broken up into six teams to prepare for an immigration court mock trial to test our skills. About halfway through our training, I had the opportunity to begin working on cases with our executive director and attorneys, which I am continuing to do from home this summer having now completed the training.
My passion for social justice, particularly with regard to TRII, stems not only from my interest in immigration, but from my family’s history. On my mom’s side of the family, we are a family of immigrants; all of my great grandparents immigrated to the United States from Eastern Europe to escape the pogroms in the late 1800s. For many like my great grandparents, the U.S. acts as a sanctuary from the persecution and violence in their home countries and provides protection, security, and agency. As someone who is passionate about politics and history, it is my conviction that we are a nation of immigrants, by immigrants, and for immigrants.
That said, while I strongly believe that the U.S. provides a sanctuary to those fleeing persecution, I have also observed that U.S. immigration law makes it incredibly difficult for them to do so. This, on top of the fact that many immigrants are unfamiliar with U.S. culture and customs, and do not speak the language, makes it incredibly difficult for them to get and maintain a job, put food on the table for their families, and adequately provide for their own healthcare. TRII works to guide clients through the immigration system while accounting for the humanitarian aid they need to survive in their new home. In addition to meeting with our clients weekly over months to thoughtfully build their applications, we also ensure they have a place to live in the community and are able to provide for themselves and their families. It is our job to help them navigate a complex and intimidating immigration system and ensure that they feel secure in their new community. It is for these very reasons that I so deeply enjoy working with TRII and providing the assistance we do.