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Left to right: Andres Mauricio Celin '11, Adolfo Cuesta '10, Jennifer Atlas '09, and Kate Scanlan '09 outside of the Kennett Square tax clinic.
Left to right: Andres Mauricio Celin '11, Adolfo Cuesta '10, Jennifer Atlas '09, and Kate Scanlan '09 outside of the Kennett Square tax clinic.

Haverford Students Make Tax Season Less Taxing for Local Farmworkers

Jennifer Atlas ’09 first learned about the plight of Pennsylvania’s migrant farmworkers while interning with Philadelphia Legal Assistance, an organization that provides free legal services to Philadelphia’s low-income population; she worked with the group’s Pennsylvania Farmworker Project, which assists workers with employment law problems. “Because of their unfamiliarity with the United States legal system and scant knowledge of the English language, [the workers] often suffer from having unfair wages or poor working conditions,” says Atlas.

And when it comes to taxes, she adds, the workers are at even greater risk of exploitation by tax preparers who may try to claim more deductions than necessary for their clients, resulting in IRS audits that can cost workers thousands of dollars.

This year, Atlas and nine other Haverford students have been active in attempts to remedy this situation by volunteering as Spanish translators at tax clinics run by Philadelphia Legal Assistance and Philadelphia VIP (Volunteers for the Indigent Program). The clinics, which occur in February and April, take place in rural Kennett Square, Pa., where many of the farmworkers are employed.

“I know a number of Haverford students who are interested in social justice and in practicing their Spanish, and I thought the tax clinic would provide a great opportunity for them to help an important cause and also to strengthen their language skills,” says Atlas.

Current volunteer Julia McGuire ’09 feels her contributions are important “because so many of these workers are eligible for tax refunds, which are crucial for supporting their families both here and in Mexico.” McGuire translates a questionnaire distributed to clients that asks them about their family members and income resources, and also translates their answers so the clinic’s law students and lawyers can prepare the actual tax return.

Fellow volunteer Adolfo Cuesta ’10 is in charge of gathering financial information from the clients and passing it on to the tax preparers. “The experience has been a good one,” he says. “I see the results of my efforts right away, which has been very encouraging.”

Iris Coloma-Gaines, an attorney with Philadelphia Legal Assistance who oversees the clinics, says that the student volunteers provide an invaluable service. “Many of our [tax preparers] don’t speak Spanish, and our clients don’t speak English,” she says. “The students are a critical bridge between the two groups.” Coloma-Gaines also appreciates Haverford students’ awareness of the issues pertinent to the farmworkers. “They’re sensitive to different cultures, and that makes it a better experience for both the volunteers and the clients.” For more information or to volunteer for the clinics, contact Jennifer Atlas at jatlas@haverford.edu.

-Brenna McBride

The path that leads to the Gardner Integrated Athletic Center and Whitehead Campus Center. The GIAC opened in 2006.

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