Last week, UDC Law students in the Immigration and Human Rights Clinic traveled to a military base to assist recently arrived individuals fleeing Afghanistan. First-year students Neena Qureshi ’24 and Kendra Li ’24 joined Professor and Associate Dean for Clinical and Experiential Programs Lindsay M. Harris in conducting legal orientations for Afghans currently living on the base.
Engaging with the immigrant community in this way gave Qureshi and Li an opportunity to apply their pre-law school experience. Prior to enrolling at UDC Law, Qureshi had worked as a partially accredited Board of Immigration Appeals representative with a resettlement agency in Rochester, New York. Having already worked with resettled refugees to complete various immigration forms and petitions and to assist in gathering evidence to support applications for benefits, Qureshi had a solid foundation of knowledge to share with recently arrived Afghans.
“This experience reminded me that so many people need urgent help, and you can only help so many,” Qureshi said. “Almost everyone in Afghanistan is experiencing such difficulties, but I am glad my experience prior to law school was able to provide some guidance, even if it was on a small scale.”
Likewise, Li’s experience prior to law school came in handy while working on base. Li recently retired from the U.S. Air Force as a Lieutenant Colonel after serving for 20 years. In the days before the trip, Li studied up on the Special Immigrant Visa process and became the group’s expert on helping those who attended the orientation navigate the process.
“The experience was both rewarding and heartbreaking. I truly appreciated the opportunity to play a part – however small – in the effort to make good on our promises to our Afghan allies,” Li said. “Overall, I learned a great deal in a short time, and I left with a renewed commitment to doing what I can to make an individual difference in the immigration field.”
Dean Harris described the experience, “The students observed me and the coordinating attorney at the base deliver a morning orientation session and then improved upon that presentation in the two afternoon sessions. Word spread around the base, and we had much higher attendance at the sessions in the afternoon. I came away really proud to be working with two of our newest UDC Law Firebirds.”
UDC Law’s Immigration and Human Rights Clinic third year law students Maggie Cannon, Tatiana Hilaire, Chizoba Kagha and Forrest Lindelof have also been working to assist the Afghan community. Earlier in the semester, the students worked under a tight timeline to file emergency humanitarian parole petitions for family members of a former U.S. combat interpreter. The students are now preparing an asylum application for an Afghan women’s rights activist who managed to escape and was paroled into the United States in August. Clinical students will eventually appear before the U.S. asylum office to represent the client at her asylum interview.
The students and Dean Harris were happy to assist, but they also acknowledged the complexity of this type of work. “This was a simultaneously energizing and exhausting experience,” said Dean Harris, adding, “It was truly heartening to see Neena and Kendra engage with our recently arrived Afghan allies in such a meaningful way.”
Li also summarized the impact, “There is no escaping how piecemeal, cumbersome and inadequate our immigration solutions are, for this group and others. We especially had little immediate, practical recourse to offer regarding how to help their loved ones and colleagues still in Afghanistan. The single best piece of advice we shared was, ‘Get an immigration attorney,’ and yet we know there simply isn’t enough affordable legal representation available in this country to meet the needs of those caught up in our immigration system.”
The Clinic was able to engage in this work, particularly filing the emergency petitions, thanks to generous donations from community members and alumni. Those wishing to support the Clinic’s work can visit the Donation page on our website and specify in the comments that the donation is directed towards the Immigration and Human Rights Clinic.