News & Views

Weekly Wins Round-up: July 2021

Dear HIAS PA Supporter,

One of our staff members had the opportunity to visit the Ellis Island National Museum of Immigration, where he learned about the origins of migration and how migration changed the course of history. He photographed a plaque (pictured below) in a gallery that demonstrated what a migrant would experience upon first entering the United States through Ellis Island. While this plaque specifically references HIAS, Inc. – the national HIAS – it highlights the incredible impact that immigration organizations across the United States have had on shaping our country.

In a recent win, two of our staff members have been working tirelessly for years to train doctors in the Greater Philadelphia area to be patient advocates for our non-English-speaking clients. There is a process for getting a medical waiver for the English and Civics requirements of naturalization if you can show that you have medical reasons for not being able to learn either subject. The process requires that a doctor sign a statement regarding the diagnosis, prognosis, and connection between those two things and learning. This has proven difficult over the years, as Director of Citizenship and Family Unification Program, Lori Alexander, and Legal Specialist, Raisa Davidovich, see hundreds of clients per year, many of whom see different doctors. This month, their persistence paid off.

Through Raisa’s guidance and perseverance, a doctor who treats many of Lori and Raisa’s clients in the Burmese community has finally gotten the hang of both how to complete these forms and why they are critical for his patients. He will be speaking to a whole conference of doctors precisely about this issue, with Lori co-presenting. Furthermore, when reporting this important event to one of our major funders, the Office of the State Refugee Coordinator, our contact there was so pleased that he invited all of the other providers around the state to attend!

I am so delighted to share these wins and more with you!


A family reunited.

A few weeks ago, Know Your Rights Data Specialist for the Immigrant Youth Advocacy team, Derick Gomez, and I met a 16-year-old boy at Kidspeace whose family was stuck at the border in Mexico. The whole family fled Honduras in March after a forced labor trafficking situation involving a gang in San Pedro Sula. This boy was really worried about his mom, dad, and brother in Ciudad Juarez. They tried to cross to seek asylum, but were turned back due to the Title 42 border closure. The family narrowly escaped being kidnapped by a cartel, and feared it would happen again. The father has insulin-dependent diabetes, and had trouble getting medical care in Mexico. Derick and I got to know the mom through WhatsApp texts, and we found out about a little-known process to request permission to cross the border through a Title 42 exemption process. We referred the family to HIAS Mexico, an affiliate of the national HIAS, Inc., for help with that process. I hadn’t even known that there was a HIAS Mexico, but they did a great job. The family was approved for entry, and crossed the border on Monday. Yesterday, they came to the shelter to pick up their son, and it was amazing to see their emotional reunion.

-Mary McCabe, Supervising Attorney for the Detained Children’s Initiative


Clients go from mentored students to HIAS PA interns.

This week, the Education and Immigrant Wellness Program teams each welcomed new interns, Raghad Kharban and Kawish Sadaqat. Raghad and Kawish are alumni of our High School Mentoring Program and are now current college students at CCP and Holy Family, respectively. We’re excited to have the two of them make up our first cohort of interns from our mentoring program and are grateful for their commitment to our teams’ work this summer. Raghad is assistant teaching in our High School Newcomer ESL Summer Program and helping with Zoom orientations for youth and adults, and Kawish is supporting the Immigrant Wellness Program team with medical appointment accompaniments and scheduling. Welcome, Raghad and Kawish!

-Valeri Harteg, Education Program Manager


Scholarship opens doors for undocumented student.

This week, I found out one of the Class of 2021 graduates in our High School Mentoring Program will be attending Community College of Philadelphia (CCP) in the fall fully funded as a Catto Scholarship Recipient! The Catto Scholarship is new as of the Spring 2021 semester, and it ensures that CCP will be free for most students who apply to the College. This student is undocumented, so he isn’t eligible for financial aid, and his parent is unable to work, so every dollar really counts for their family. I am so thrilled and relieved for him, and excited that more and more of our future graduates will be able to take advantage of this awesome opportunity!

-Michelle Ferguson, Education Access Coordinator


A father and son reunite after ten years.

Koffi* is a Philadelphia Partnership for Resilience (PPR) client from Côte d’Ivoire. He had thought his son was killed along with everyone else in his village when it was attacked in 2011, and Koffi only learned that his son was still alive after Koffi himself was resettled in the US in 2016. Former staff members in my position originally filed a Refugee/Asylee Relative Petition (Form I-730) for Koffi’s son in May 2017 and then worked extensively with Koffi to respond to a request for evidence and to advocate for him and his son to be reunited given that the case was significantly outside normal processing time. The I-730 was approved just after I started, but even after approval, a family petition must be processed by the consulate before the beneficiary can actually enter this country. Consular processing, unfortunately, like every other immigration process, is shockingly slow and can take years. I was therefore surprised and thrilled when Koffi called me this past week to let me know that his son had finally arrived in the US this past month! I was especially excited because, since I started at HIAS PA two years ago, this is the first case where a beneficiary has actually arrived in the US. And more importantly, Koffi and his son have been reunited after over 10 years of separation!

-Chloe Walton, Legal Coordinator for the Philadelphia Partnership for Resilience

*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, Esq.