News & Views

Weekly Wins Monthly Round-up: August 2020

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The pandemic has placed the world in a state of upheaval for nearly six months, which has placed the burdens of unemployment and uncertainty on our clients, and on immigrants, refugees, and asylum-seekers around the globe. But we are so lucky at HIAS PA to be able to work with incredible clients and staff, each of whom are lights in the darkness. Their energy, hope, and resilience power not only the Greater Philadelphia area, but the nation, resulting in reunified families, children thriving who were once endangered, students taking steps toward the future, and more. I invite you to join me now in celebrating our community as we keep America’s promise to ensure stable lives for immigrants.

Thanks to our community support, HIAS PA has been able to give out 115 $800 grants to immigrants who are in freefall. Immigrants like Gulsana and Damir*:
Gulsana and Damir, along with their two children, arrived in the United States one year ago as refugees from Kyrgyzstan. Gulsana found a job working as a home aid, and Damir worked as a roofer. When the COVID-19 pandemic hit the country, they both lost their jobs, and found themselves in freefall, not knowing where their next paychecks would come from to pay rent and keep food on the table. They used their grant from the Immigrant Relief Fund to pay their rent and regain a stable footing, and could not be more grateful.

*names have been changed 

1. Students excel in HIAS PA’s summer college prep program
After an intense and very full two weeks, our main portion of the High School College Prep summer program has come to an end! I am really excited that our students were able to create projects in both their English and math classes, whether that was a resume, personal statement essay, a presentation or a how-to demonstration. Adult Education Lead Instructor, Charlie Heil, and our math teacher, Becca Stachowicz, did such a great job supporting our students so they could meet these ambitious goals in just two short weeks! A big thanks to Charlie, Becca, our Summer College Prep Intern, Maddie Hager, and Education Program Manager, Valeri Harteg, for all of their hard work over the past several weeks!!
-Michelle Ferguson, Education Access Coordinator

2. Twelve-year-old gains asylum after four years of uncertainty
On Monday I had a COVID miracle – DHS agreed to a grant of humanitarian asylum for my 12-year-old client from El Salvador WITHOUT any testimony!! Even the immigration judge was shook! I’ve been working on this case since 2016. We were (in my opinion) unfairly denied asylum at the asylum office. My client was raped by her uncle when she was 7 in her first attempt to come to the US, but since the harm occurred in Mexico and not in El Salvador, the asylum office found no past persecution. With recent bad changes in asylum law, DHS’ policy of appealing everything, our key witness refusing last minute to sign her affidavit, the client’s inability to speak about the abuse, and the fact that I had to prep her dad’s testimony over the phone in less than ideal circumstances, I did not have high hopes for Monday’s hearing. Then a miracle happened! DHS, impressed by my well prepared brief coupled with country conditions, agreed to a grant of humanitarian asylum based on the child’s tender age, waived all testimony, and waived appeal!! At the end of his order, the judge congratulated my client and told her that she “is an asset to the United States” as she “has a lot to offer this country”.
-Stephanie Lubert, Immigrant Youth Advocacy Initiative Supervising Attorney

3. Survivor of abuse gets her green card after 30 years in the United States.
This week, I received a green card (based on a Victims of Crime visa adjustment) for a client who has been in the U.S. with unstable immigration status since 1990! To put that into perspective, I was three years old when she arrived!
-Stephanie Costa, Supervising Attorney

4. High school client and aspiring filmmaker teams up with aspiring actress and former client to create a video for HIAS, Inc.
This week, I shot footage for a video project I am working on for HIAS, Inc. in the Youth Team office. (Big thanks to Stephanie Lubert and Managing Attorney Philippe Weisz for coordinating that with me!) We wanted to involve people from within the HIAS PA community, so I reached out to a former client about acting in the video and one of our high school program students about being a production assistant. This student has been attending our Saturday and summer programs for years, but I only found out last week that he is interested in filmmaking and editing! He leapt at the opportunity and really put 100% into his work: he helped set up the lights, shot some great footage with his camera and helped with the breakdown. (He even got my computer repaired for a song!) The actor I recruited discovered that she really enjoyed being in front of the camera… next stop, Hollywood! It was a great day, and I was thrilled to be able to offer these opportunities to our clients. I would also be remiss if I didn’t give a shout-out to Director of Refugee Programming and Planning, Rona Buchalter, who has helped to facilitate this project from the get-go.
-Charlie Heil, Adult Education Lead Instructor

5. Interns beat the odds and thrive during the pandemic
We would like to give a big shout out and thank you to all of our interns who have been with us during the pandemic thus far. We are so very grateful for all your help, and know that it has not been easy to join an organization and a team completely remotely. You all have exceeded our expectations, and your passion and energy are unparalleled. Thank you for handling the virtual work with such patience and grace, and for staying connected and engaged while working from home. We couldn’t have done this without you. Thank you for all your hard work. You all have done an excellent job, and you are so appreciated. We are so happy that you’re now part of the HIAS PA family, and we can’t wait to (hopefully, one day) meet you in person!

Want to ensure that our clients continue to experience these special Wins? You can contact your legislator and ask them to investigate the deportation of children, and check out other ways to advocate for immigrants on our website.

Thank you for your continued support of HIAS Pennsylvania.I hope that these Weekly Wins from HIAS PA staff have given you a lift, as they do me. Look out for more wins at the beginning of next month!

In health,

Cathryn Miller-Wilson

P.S. If you have the ability, please consider donating to the Immigrant Relief Fund so that the most vulnerable have income support and our agency can continue to provide critical services to the community.