News & Views

Weekly Wins Monthly Round-up: July

If anything has become painfully apparent in the past few months, it is that the simple can easily become complex—just leaving and entering your home requires new mask-wearing and hand-washing rituals. However, even before COVID-19, language or cultural barriers often turned the simple into the complex for our clients. I am constantly in awe of how our staff continue to step up to overcome the obstacles and ensure our clients get what they need.

1. Essential client meetings happen in unlikely places

Shout out to Education Specialist Charlie Heil for driving to Southwest Philadelphia in order to test our Citizenship Class students … in a Planet Fitness parking lot! We have really strict pre- and post-class testing requirements under our USCIS-funded grant (remote testing hasn’t been an option for us), and have been unable to test any of our students since March. But untested students don’t count as students, so we had to get creative. This week Charlie started testing students in their cars in small groups in parking lots around the city. And one of our partner agencies started testing students at picnic tables in an outdoor area next to their office. I also have to give a big shout out to our students, for showing up in the 90-degree heat to get this done!
-Mary Clark, P-CAN Coordinator

2. Staff member goes above and beyond to fulfill client technology needs

Equal Justice Works Trafficking Victim Fellow, Noelle Lemon, and I have been struggling to reach a very vulnerable client with unstable housing and no cell phone. Despite us not being able to reach her, HIAS PA Employment Program Manager Gin Sum drove all the way out to Allentown, went to the house where she is living, and found her in person in order to give her a phone from HIAS PA. Even though I haven’t yet spoken to her, we are so excited that she will now be able to be more independent!! Thanks Gin!

-Eliav Ehrenkrantz, Immigrant Youth Advocacy Initiative Know Your Rights Specialist

3. Eritrean client gets life-saving kidney transplant only because of advocacy

In 2017 we resettled an Eritrean man in his mid-thirties who had suffered from kidney failure for several years and relied on dialysis for survival. I remember his first night in Philadelphia, when he was brought straight from the airport to a hospital emergency room because he had missed so much dialysis on his flight here.

I had the opportunity to work with him, and during that time we found out that his dialysis facility had not considered recommending him for a kidney transplant because they believed he was not eligible as a non-citizen (which is entirely incorrect). With some support and a whole lot of advocacy he was put on the kidney transplant list in 2018.

Last Friday he had a successful kidney transplant! It is such a joy for me to witness the arc of his journey and am looking forward to seeing him be able to live his life in an entirely new way.
-Amy Eckendorf, Immigrant Wellness Program Manager

4. Citizenship prevails despite federal agency slowdown

My weekly win is that our clients are finally starting to get sworn in as U.S. citizens after months of the United States Citizenship and Immigration Service (USCIS) being closed! Clients who became new citizens this week include an older woman from the former Soviet Union who has been fighting to stay in this country since the 1990s; a young college student from Pakistan; and a former survivor of domestic violence recipient from Jamaica who was part of a lawsuit filed by the National Immigration Litigation Alliance in order to request USCIS to immediately naturalize individuals whose citizenship oaths were derailed by COVID-19. For these three clients, USCIS brought a federal judge to the ceremonies in order to allow them to change their names.

-Mary Clark, P-CAN Coordinator

5. Immigrant Relief Fund recipients receive crucial case management support

I want to give a shout out to my intern, Yamit Netter-Sweet! She’s technically the Refugee Resettlement & Placement (R&P) intern, but because I took on several Emergency Fund cases, Yamit was enlisted to help me. Without Yamit’s tremendous support our clients would not have nearly been able to achieve so much.

Just a few of Yamit’s accomplishments in the short time she’s interned at HIAS PA are:

1) getting clients enrolled in a food support program for women and children,

2) researching a community college for a youth-team legal client (and setting up a call with their financial aid department),

3) assisting a client in applying for a new social security card for her son (this has been especially difficult due to COIVD-19),

4) and lastly, helping several eligible clients enroll in public benefits!

She’ll be leaving us at the end of July, but the work she’s done at HIAS PA will have a lasting impact on the clients we managed together. Thank you, Yamit!

-Dzemila Bilanovic, Resettlement Case Manager

6. Client weaves a new future with help from the Immigrant Relief Fund

After losing her husband to cancer within a year of the family fleeing to the US to claim asylum, Ismat* found herself without a leg to stand on. Alone and traumatized with three children to support, Ismat turned to HIAS Pennsylvania’s Shaloo Jose, Director of the Asylee Outreach Program, for help.

An excellent seamstress, Ismat had found a job at David’s Bridal and was planning to start a side business sewing prom dresses when the pandemic put her life on pause. Unable to work due to the lockdown and with the rent piling up, Ismat worried that she was in too deep.

The grant from the Immigrant Relief Fund gave Ismat the peace of mind that she would be able to pay rent and the time she needed to find new employment.
*Name has been changed

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.