Meet Our Staff: Chloe Walton
“It’s a privilege and a challenge to be able to communicate with clients in a way that helps them understand these complicated and often unfair processes that they have to go through.”
-Chloe Walton, Legal Coordinator for the Philadelphia Partnership for Resilience
We spoke with Chloe Walton, Legal Coordinator for the Philadelphia Partnership for Resilience, about what her role at HIAS PA means to her. Read the extended interview below!
What is your name and what is your role at HIAS PA?
My name is Chloe Walton, and I am the Legal Coordinator for PPR, which is the Philadelphia Partnership for Resilience. PPR is a program split between HIAS Pennsylvania and Nationalities Service Center (NSC), and it’s a program serving survivors of torture. As the legal coordinator, I work on legal applications with clients. I just got accredited, so now I can represent clients in many contexts. We help clients regardless of immigration status, but the qualification is that they must have had an experience that matches the funders’ definition of torture.
What brought you to HIAS PA?
I mentioned that the program is split between HIAS PA and NSC – I was originally at NSC as a case manager for PPR, so I got the social services experience there, and then this role on the legal services side became available. I was excited to be able to help clients in a more focused area because case management covers every sphere, and I found that being in legal services was a great way to continue to work with the clients who I loved to work with, but in a way that allowed me to deepen my understanding of the field that I was helping them with.
Why do you do what you do?
I do what I do because I love communication and languages, which is why I originally started working with the immigrant and refugee population. I found that, from big things to small things, it was just so important to be able to communicate with people – whether in a language that I speak or through an interpreter – in a way that they would understand, and in a way that was sensitive to the fact that things don’t necessarily translate directly, even if the words do. Particularly when it comes to legal services, it’s a privilege and a challenge to be able to communicate with clients in a way that helps them understand these complicated and often unfair processes that they have to go through, and at the same time help them take advantage of the applications and the parts of this system that actually do benefit them, including family petitions and things like that which can help reunite families.
What languages do you speak, and how does this help you when dealing with your clients?
I speak French and I speak Arabic, and those two languages help me communicate with two huge subsets of clients. Although I’m not a native speaker of either, I find that speaking clients’ language helps to create a much more direct and immediate personal connection. I think they’re pretty used to having someone not speak the language, and it’s a pleasure for me to be able to bridge that gap a little bit so they don’t have to work as hard. It also challenges me to continue working on my languages and make sure that I’m always learning how to communicate in the most effective way possible in whatever language that may be.
What does a typical day look like for you?
My typical day now is different from before COVID, but the content of the work is similar, just replacing client meetings in person with meetings over the phone. Before COVID, I was mainly communicating with clients about existing applications, helping them understand what stage in the process they were at, and doing further work on petitions and applications that needed more evidence, in addition to starting new applications for clients who were becoming eligible for their green cards or citizenship after being granted asylum or after arriving in the US as a refugee after a year.
At PPR, because we don’t close cases unless a client moves away, we’re able to continue working with the same clients on many different things, so it was interesting to come into this role, because I was almost passing the ball to myself. I was referring clients for legal services and letting them know that I would be in touch in a month when I learned how to provide those services. This has created a continuity, both because I was able to transition within the role, and because within this role I was able to continue helping and working with the same people.
Pre-COVID, I hadn’t gotten the chance to go to USCIS for a client interview yet, but hopefully will soon. Also, getting to collaborate with colleagues is a huge benefit and is so beneficial to me both as I learn the ropes and because the ropes in the immigration system are constantly changing, so being surrounded by people who have this incredible expertise and are able to help is just wonderful. I’ve found HIAS PA to be such a warm and welcoming team to be a part of, and being able to participate in that team is one of the lovely things about my day.
What is one interaction that you’ll remember for the rest of your life?
That’s a really hard question. There have been so many. When I first came on, I had the benefit of being able to give clients the good news that their green cards had arrived. I hadn’t filed the applications, but I got to experience their joy at receiving their green cards after a long wait.
One special interaction: The reason I came to Philly in the first place was because of a dear friend of mine who was working at NSC in their legal department, and she referred a client to the person who was previously in my position, who then filed an application for this PPR client. When I came on, I began working with the same client, and then the petition was finally approved for his daughter to come to the US. That petition is still in processing, but the excitement of talking to that client about how exciting it was that his daughter was going to be able to come to the US, and knowing that that work had been passed on from colleague to colleague from NSC to HIAS PA was really cool.
Another story: Languages only get you so far, and I unfortunately do not speak many of the ones that I would need in order to communicate with all of my clients. I had a client who needed quite a bit of work to submit evidence for a request for evidence (RFE), and it included building affidavits with friends and family of the client who were located in Malaysia. The client is Rohingya. I ended up having to have a call over Language Line using WhatsApp and two cell phones so that the interpreter could talk to the client on speakerphone, with me holding the phones next to each other. We were somehow able to have a perfectly functional conversation, and that was pretty cool. That was during COVID, and is just another example of how the world is small and how those connections with friends and family are so important. This client was able to hear his friend who he hadn’t spoken to in awhile and feel connected in that way while working together.
In another instance, I didn’t have a second cell phone, so I had to record WhatsApp voice messages on my computer, and then have the interpreter listen to the messages. That was clunky, but it worked in a pinch!
What is the most meaningful part of your position here?
Similar to what I said earlier – it’s the task and the challenge of taking something very complicated and making it make sense to clients. Asking them questions in ways that make sense to them, and helping them understand the timelines of the applications they’re filing. Being able to be the person to anticipate what they may want to know and to be available for what they need to know is rewarding.
I think there’s a balance between the experience that I have, the languages I speak, and being able to explain to or show clients that there is a lot about this system that doesn’t make sense, and that we’re figuring it out, too. That alliance and shared goal is something else that’s really special about my position.
What is some advice that you would give to someone who would like to work in your position?
I think some of the advice is just going to be the same kinds of things that anyone in this organization would probably agree with: avoid taking work home as much as possible so that you can stay fresh and ready to interact with clients and to be fully present with them.
I think I was lucky in my case management position, and now in this position, to come with the knowledge and thoroughly deep understanding of the trauma that a lot of our clients go through, and recognizing how that trauma bleeds into the work and how it might be affecting my clients, and how that also applies to the service provider. It’s important to learn about and be aware of how clients’ experiences may affect you and them, and their interactions and the way they express themselves – I think having that training and taking that on is really important. I don’t think it needs to be prior knowledge, but I think it needs to be a constant part of the process.
Is there anything else you’d like to say to your clients, coworkers, HIAS PA supporters, etc.?
Now, more than ever, while we’re remote, I’m so grateful for, and deeply miss, the HIAS PA community. It’s such an inclusive community between staff and clients and volunteers and supporters, and I think that every person who contributes to the work that we do is wonderful, and I am grateful for and deeply miss the camaraderie and shared mission and shared passion that everyone in the HIAS PA community has for ensuring that people who come to the US are not disappointed, or if they are, that they have the support that they need to thrive here.
What is your favorite thing to eat in Philly?
That’s hard because I feel like there’s a winner in every cuisine. There’s a fabulous ramen place just north of Arch, at 10th and Arch, that I love. Also, Indian food. Pretty much anywhere that would deliver to where I was, I was very grateful for.