Summer Centered: Supporting Asylees and Refugees
Natalia Barber ‘23 and Isabel Ashford Arya ‘24 are part of the Asylee Outreach Program at HIAS Pennsylvania, which provides legal and social services to migrants in need of support.
Seeking asylum in the United States is a difficult process for not only refugees, who receive asylum before entering the country, but also for asylees, who receive asylum after they enter the country. Natalia Barber ‘23 and Isabel Ashford Arya ‘24 are spending their summer working in the Asylee Outreach Program (AOP), part of HIAS Pennsylvania, an organization that provides legal and social services to help refugees, asylees, and immigrants in need of support. Their work is being supported by the Center for Peace and Global Citizenship’s (CPGC) partnership with HIAS Pennsylvania.
The AOP operates from the HIAS PA office, located in Center City, just across the street from the Liberty Bell and Independence Mall. Barber and Ashford Arya, who work with other undergraduate students on their 10-person team, participate via a combination of in-person and remote efforts.
“I’ve spent the majority of my time coordinating the final steps of clients’ green card applications, as well as assisting with other legal forms relevant to asylees and refugees,” Barber said. She visits the office between two and three times a week to assist with applications and meet with clients and team members face to face.
Ashford Arya conducts the same duties remotely from her home in Los Angeles. “My daily responsibilities include reaching out to clients to explain and obtain necessary documentation,” she said, “as well as assist them with filling out required forms and making appointments in order to successfully complete their green card applications and eventually receive legal permanent residence in the U.S. I also organize and upload information to our HIAS database to keep track of clients’ processes.”
Studying and assisting in the humanitarian crises faced by migrants has been a focus for both Barber and Ashford Arya during their time at Haverford. Barber, a political science and Spanish double major who is minoring in Latin American, Iberian, and Latinx studies, spent last summer with Haverford’s Beyond Borders program to gather oral histories told by undocumented Mexican migrants. After conducting further research in Mexico City with the organization this May, she is spending this summer on the other side of the system.
“I was incredibly interested in working with HIAS PA to deepen my understanding of the immigration legal system and to better grasp the complexities of offering legal and social services to immigrants in the Philadelphia community,” she said. “The staff is incredibly passionate and patient, and I have felt supported every day this summer.”
Ashford Arya similarly visited Mexico, specifically Tijuana, when she was in high school; there, she witnessed the impact that U.S. immigration policies and practices had on people.
“This experience inspired my passion for migrants’ rights and desire to delve more deeply into the history of and relationship between migration and the criminal legal system, which is why I was so interested in and excited about this internship with HIAS,” the anthropology major and Spanish minor said. “Many of the courses I have taken so far at Haverford–like ‘Borders & Migration’ and ‘Anthropology of Human Rights’–have informed my knowledge and helped prepare me for this internship, while my role at HIAS has guided and deepened my academic interest in migration studies and migration law.”
In addition to practicing her conversational Spanish, the experience has also introduced Ashford Arya to like-minded teammates, who help her with self-care, avoiding burnout, and putting in the extra effort on behalf of their clients.
“Having witnessed firsthand the meaningful and sustainable relationships that my supervisors have been able to forge with our clients, I’m hoping to learn more from them about establishing trust across cultural and linguistic differences and, in the age of COVID, through virtual interactions,” she said.
Barber has achieved her goals so far, as she has become strongly familiar with the process of becoming a permanent citizen, as well as the details of how lawyers and professionals better represent asylum seekers and refugees.
Ashford Arya agreed, saying “Because this is only my second-ever internship experience, and my first involving migration law, I’m also eager to better understand the day-to-day reality of working in this field and representing asylum seekers.”
But the work doesn’t end for her when the summer does. As Philadelphia Justice and Equity Fellows, both Barber and Ashford Arya will be continuing their internships at HIAS PA part-time during the upcoming academic year.
“Summer Centered” is a series exploring our students’ campus-supported summer work.