News & Views

Weekly Wins Round-Up: May 2021

Dear HIAS PA Supporter,

50% of adults in the United States are fully vaccinated against COVID-19! What a way to end May! As we move into June, we hope that we will be able to share news of our own reopening soon, so stay tuned! Meanwhile, we remain working remotely for now.

At HIAS PA, we are celebrating a hard-earned Win from our Education Program Manager, Valeri Harteg, our Advocacy team, and the coalition of community-based organizations that we work with on broader immigrant advocacy issues including Nationalities Services Center, AFAHO, Africom, the Education Law Center, and others: The addition of a Swahili Bilingual Counseling Assistant (BCA) and two additional BCAs speaking languages spoken by Black immigrants to the current roster of Philadelphia School District BCAs!

We found that, due to a rise in immigration from Africa and the Caribbean, there has also been a rise in several languages spoken by Black immigrant families in the Philadelphia School District—only one of which had been represented in the current list of 95 BCAs. Thanks to everyone’s hard work and continued advocacy, BCAs for three African and Caribbean languages—Swahili, Haitian Creole, and Fula—are now included in the School District’s list!

As always, I’m overjoyed to share these HIAS PA wins and more with you!


Client gains citizenship after ten years of working with HIAS PA

After working together for more than ten years, our client became a U.S. citizen last month! He was a victim of an aggravated physical assault around 2009 in Philadelphia, and was undocumented at the time. He began working with HIAS PA after reporting the incident to the police. We helped our client apply for a U Visa, which is a temporary legal status for certain victims of crime. Our client was able to include his wife and two children on his application, which was approved in 2010.

Although the family had U Visa status, they were not yet able to travel outside of the United States. However, three years later, when our client and his family were eligible to apply for green cards, we again helped them apply to become legal permanent residents. Their applications were granted, allowing them to travel to Mexico and visit their family.

In 2019, our client returned to HIAS PA requesting assistance with his naturalization application. Because of the COVID-19 pandemic the application took longer than expected. However in March of 2021, our client had his citizenship interview and passed his exam! His application was approved, and on April 8, 2021 he took his Oath of Allegiance and became a new US Citizen.

-Tal Netter-Sweet, Immigrant Victims of Crime Initiative Paralegal & Vleidmy Velarde, Immigrant Victims of Crime Managing Accredited Representative


Client gains justice and citizenship through a rehearing, and gets to tell her true story

I had my first ever naturalization rehearing last week. My client’s citizenship application had been denied last year because she had a harassment conviction within the last 5 years, and USCIS therefore deemed her lacking in good moral character. At the rehearing, we were able to demonstrate that this conviction had stemmed from an argument with her abusive spouse where she was not the aggressor, and that my client had been persuaded to plead guilty in an attempt to protect her husband. Her citizenship application was then approved!

Thank you to Ayodele Gansallo, Co-Director of Legal Services, for connecting me to a volunteer psychiatrist through the Philadelphia Human Rights Clinic, who provided a lengthy psych evaluation to support the application. This client has had a long and complicated immigration history, from entering the country with a false name when she was 5, to getting her green card revoked and obtaining Special Immigrant Juvenile (SIJ) status with HIAS PA’s help. It’s great to see her finally become a US citizen!

-Mary Clark, Philadelphia Citizenship Action Network (P-CAN) Coordinator


Virtual English classes bring children together, providing more than just language skills

My weekly win was going to the virtual graduation for my young clients’ HIAS PA after-school English class. It was amazing to hear the English they’ve learned since they arrived in the US only a year ago! Because of the pandemic, these kids have had barely any in-person school, so learning English and feeling like part of a community has been hard for them. Since the class was virtual, these undocumented kids who live in different counties were all able to join. A huge shout out to the Education team for creating such a welcoming, fun and supportive group!

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


Refugee client gains permanent housing in Philadelphia

My win this week is that we finally moved one of our refugee clients into permanent housing! It took longer than usual to secure an apartment for this client as we navigated a shifting rental market that is costly for a single person. However, this client maintained a positive attitude throughout several temporary stays as we searched for an affordable apartment close to his family member. Today he signed his lease agreement and is finally able to unpack and fully settle into Philadelphia! I’m very grateful to the Refugee Resettlement & Placement team for their help in this housing search, and especially to our interns for making endless landlord outreach calls and managing a hectic meeting that turned into a combined home set up, furniture delivery, and lease signing.

-Annelieske Sanders, Refugee Resettlement & Placement Housing Case Manager


Driver’s licenses for all!

We had a virtual event last week where we wrote letters in support of HB 279, which would allow undocumented immigrants to apply for driver’s licenses. Staff, supporters, and immigration advocates who attended the event learned about HB 279 and Driving PA Forward, and told some great stories about how driver’s licenses have affected their immigrant friends’ and families’ lives. If you want to learn more and help keep our roads safe by advocating for driver’s licenses for all, you can access HIAS PA’s public comment and letter-writing toolkit here.

-Becca Weber, Development and Communications Associate


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