News & Views

HIAS Pennsylvania’s 2021 Wish List for Immigrants in Pennsylvania

A new year, new administration, and three key proposals will bring new hope for immigrants in Greater Philadelphia

December 28, 2020 — HIAS Pennsylvania, a Philadelphia-based nonprofit serving low-income and at-risk immigrants and refugees, has developed a wish list of three concrete proposals that, if supported by local legislators and community members, will vastly strengthen the rights of the immigrant community in the Greater Philadelphia region. By making our local community a more welcoming place for immigrants, we create a healthier, safer, and economically stronger place for all Americans. Here is HIAS Pennsylvania’s wish list of changes for immigrants in Philadelphia in 2021:

  1. Representation for immigrants in detention. Immigrants in detention are the only incarcerated individuals not eligible for a state-funded lawyer. The Pennsylvania Immigrant Family Unity Project (PAIFUP) works to change this.
    • SPECIFIC GOAL: Government-funded counsel for immigrants in detention.
    • WHY: Immigrants’ liberties — and lives — are at stake in immigration proceedings, yet they have no access to representation. This violates Gideon v. Wainwright, 372 US 335 (1963), which entitles incarcerated individuals to government-funded representation on the basis that their liberty is at stake.
  2. Improved language access for immigrants: Healthcare. In order for immigrants to access treatment for COVID-19 and vaccines, they need interpretation at healthcare provider locations. Although legally mandated, many providers – particularly pharmacies – do not provide the interpretation immigrants need.
    • SPECIFIC GOAL: To ensure that all pharmacies in the Greater Philadelphia region provide interpretation when requested. A third-party service can be easily obtained by pharmacies and made available to clients.
    • WHY: Pharmacies are and will continue to be important sites for medical support during the COVID-19 pandemic, including for vaccine distribution. They need to be accessible to immigrants.
  3. Improved language access for immigrants: Schools. As education moved virtual, the lack of language access caused students to be left behind.
    • SPECIFIC GOAL: For the Philadelphia School District to hire a Swahili-speaking Bilingual Counseling Assistant (BCA).
    • WHY: Black Immigrants are underserved by the District, and Swahili-speaking students – who reside in Philadelphia in much larger numbers than are currently being counted by the School District’s counting system – need support.
    • May 2021 Update: We are so excited to announce that this goal was achieved with the help of organizations throughout Philadelphia – the Philadelphia School District has hired BCAs for three languages spoken by Black immigrants (Swahili, Haitian Creole, and Fula) for the 2021-2022 school year!

Over the past four years, immigration advocates like HIAS Pennsylvania have defended the local immigrant community in the face of ethnically-motivated travel bans, family separation, inhumane asylum policies, and other rule changes that have frightened and demonized immigrants, including long standing residents and those with a lawful right to live and work in our communities. However, with the new administration, there are many opportunities for positive action for immigrants and change at all levels (see needed federal actions here). There is much work still to be done, as these changes will not be automatic, and will require the backing of local government. To learn more about how you can support these proposals to strengthen our community, visit