Spotlight on an Intern—Emily Smithman

When Emily applied to intern with HIAS Pennsylvania last spring, she only knew that HIAS Pennsylvania was a leading immigration non-profit in Philadelphia—and thus the perfect fit for her aspirations. But when she got the interview and told her mother, she was surprised to find out that she had a personal connection to HIAS Pennsylvania—HIAS Pennsylvania had helped her great-grandmother come to the US. A fact made even more real by when Emily found records of her great-grandmother's relationship to HIAS PA in her attic (see below).

Emily’s great-grandmother, Fanny—who, according to her grandfather, Emily resembles—came alone to the United States at the age of 17. Fanny’s family planned to follow, but with the outbreak of World War I, emigrating from Eastern Europe to the United States was no longer possible. When relationships became strained with the uncle who sponsored her, HIAS Pennsylvania helped provide support when her sponsor did not.

But the historical connection only set the stage for Emily’s internship. The experience continued to strike an emotional chord. One of her clients had experienced years of severe abuse at the hands of her husband. Not only was she Eastern European like Emily’s family, but she reminded Emily of a good friend she has that had inspired her to go to law school in the first place. Life was coming full circle.

When Emily looks back at her time at HIAS Pennsylvania, she points out how unique it was: “compared to other internships, I got a much deeper connection at the personal level. I never before walked away from an internship saying what I wanted to do for the rest of my life.”

Now, Emily knows that in the future, no matter what she does in her career, she will continue to work to help victims of domestic violence free their immigration status from their relationship with their abuser.  Through pro bono work or as a career, working with immigrants experiencing domestic violence is a calling Emily will never walk away from.