Of all the academic activities and extracurricular endeavors I engaged in during my time at SUNY Buffalo Law School, none has had a greater impact on my legal education and the person I am today than the time I spent as a Buffalo Human Rights Center Fellow. This experience taught me not only a great deal about immigration law and human rights issues in our city, but also a great deal about myself and the kind of lawyer I wish to become.
The work I set out to do with my fellowship grant was far different from what I ended up doing, but this ended up being a huge blessing in disguise. As I would find out, it is extremely important to thoroughly research the organization you will be working with and the type of work you will do there. My summer started out a bit shaky, but I was lucky enough to stumble into the legal department of a local non-profit organization called Journey’s End Refugee Services.
At Journey’s End I provided legal services to numerous clients each week, mainly refugees, asylum seekers and special immigrant visa recipients. I helped them complete green card applications, citizenship applications and interview preparation, fiancé visa applications, petitions for alien relatives, defensive asylum filings and much more. A huge advantage of working for a non-profit organization is the vast experience you gain in a short time. You will almost certainly be exposed to a wide variety of work and expected to manage a heavy workload, ensuring that no opportunity to learn and grow is lost.
The most fulfilling aspect of my position was helping refugees who had spent more than a decade in refugee camps work toward a brighter future in the United States. These refugees were some of the hardest-working individuals I have ever met. They wait for buses in the bitter winter cold so as not to miss a day of work doing things such as maintenance and janitorial duties. Some of these individuals were doctors or lawyers in their former countries, but they never let pride get in the way of the hard work they knew was necessary to provide for their families. Seeing the transformation of these people from fragile, hurting, scared refugees to hard-working Americans who play an essential role in the Buffalo community was phenomenal. This fellowship is what drove my passion for immigration law.
It is extremely difficult not to get caught up in the idea that everything you do in law school needs to be only for your legal mind and skills, and that any other work is a waste of your precious three years. My fellowship position involved much intense legal work, but I am a better attorney today not because of the legal skills I garnered so much as the overall cultural and humanitarian understanding I gained from my fellowship position.
It was with great sadness that I had to move on from Journey’s End. I hope to return someday to this incredible organization that has transformed me so much, and that I would not have known about had I not taken advantage of the Buffalo Human Rights Center Fellowship opportunity.