Having worked for the past year at the Brandeis student-run immigration legal clinic, The Right to Immigration Institute (TRII), this summer I was excited for the opportunity to further develop my knowledge of the immigration legal system at a well-established, multi-city nonprofit: the Tahirih Justice Center.
From my first two weeks of training, I quickly began to realize just how different Tahirih is from TRII despite providing many of the same services, and what strategies I can take back to my work at TRII during the school year. The most obvious difference is that Tahirih only serves immigrant survivors of gender-based violence, and for the most part, only takes a handful of the more serious cases.
This means that any given client must be an immigrant who qualifies for a serious type of relief (i.e. asylum) and has also experienced violence because of their gender or sexuality. This results in a client base of mostly women who have experienced some very serious trauma, and some of them are currently undergoing trauma in abusive domestic relationships that our center helps them get out of.
Tahirih fills the wide gap of immigrant women who are often unable to get help because many immigration legal organizations are scarce in resources and therefore are not properly trauma-informed and don’t know specifically how to cater to women and individuals who have experienced traumatic gender-based violence. One way that Tahirih is trauma-informed and creates a safe space for survivors is its secrecy and selectivity. The small office is discreet and only accessible to employees and clients, and any potential clients are put through three rounds of phone screenings.
The training period of the first two weeks was extremely in-depth, conducted by the lawyers themselves and through webinars. I learned techniques necessary to help a client feel comfortable in our office and reclaim their narrative by giving them space to tell their story their way– something that is often disregarded in the highly invasive and re-traumatizing immigration process.
As one can imagine in this political climate, the world of immigration law is constantly shifting, which makes for extremely uneasy situations for our clients. Just last year, the attorney general released an unprecedented memo that advised judges not to grant asylum on the basis of domestic or gang violence, and revoked a grant of asylum in a domestic violence case. Last week, Trump tweeted that mass raids and deportations in major cities (including Baltimore, where my office is) would begin Sunday. These changes constantly arise, which keeps interns like me busy.
In response to the deportation threat, one of my projects this summer is to compile a trauma-informed resource guide/toolkit for our clients with families, to prepare in case of deportation. This will include instructions on how to designate another guardian for one’s child, emergency numbers to call, and know your rights guides. There are many family preparedness guides already out there, but most are not trauma-informed or gender-specific. Some of our clients in abusive domestic relationships or with abusive family members may need to create alternative safety plans for their children or prepare in different ways.
I know that my other responsibilities at the office–helping file immigration forms, conducting new client screenings, and meeting with clients, to name a few–help the office run smoothly for this summer. However, I am most excited about this deportation guide project because it will be a sustainable resource that clients can use for weeks and months to come. Nonprofits like Tahirih are so important as the government continues to make it increasingly difficult to navigate the immigration system and increasingly difficult for individuals like our clients to obtain status, especially without legal representation. Tahirih’s lawyers are extraordinarily committed and thorough in their work, and I am excited for a summer of being able to support their work and make their (very difficult) jobs a little bit easier in any way I can.
Eliana Kleiman ’21