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Drake Law students help Burmese family in green card clinic

December 1, 2015

One Burmese refugee family is another step closer to having permanent residence in the United States, thanks to three Drake Law students.

The students participated in a green card clinic in Marshalltown, Iowa, as part of a joint project between Justice for Our Neighbors (JFON) and Ethnic Minorities of Burma Advocacy and Resource Center (EMBARC).

The event was organized by Hannah Beach, a third-year Drake Law student who works as an intern for EMBARC and helps refugee families complete their green card applications. As the only legal intern for the organization, and with several families on the waiting list, Beach had the idea to involve other Drake Law students to help out.

“I thought, how can I get this to go faster so these families are not in limbo?” Beach says. “That gave me the idea of organizing something for Drake students. And it would be a way for students who are interested in this form of law to get hands-on experience.”

Third-year students Ana Dixit and Mark Ross volunteered for the clinic, along with Beach. Local immigration attorney Ann Naffier, LW’11, who works with JFON, led a two-hour training at Drake Law School for the three students.

“Training the students before such a clinic is vital, as the students are assisting the refugees with an extremely important legal process that affects every aspect of the refugees' lives here in the United States,” Naffier says.

During the training, Naffier explained to the students the immigration laws that apply to the refugees and trained them in the requirements and potential snares of filing immigration forms with the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Service.

The students then went to Marshalltown to meet with the refugee family they were assisting, which consisted of three adults – the mother, father, and grandmother – as well as four children. After leaving their home in Burma, the family lived in a refugee camp in Thailand for nearly a decade before finally coming to Iowa.

“For us, that’s an impossible concept to imagine,” Ross says. “To not have a home, or for that refugee camp to be your home, it’s hard to imagine living like that.”

Beach, Dixit, and Ross each paired up with one adult and, with the help of interpreters, went through the form and asked the required questions. The students then completed the children’s applications. During the process, Naffier was available to answer any legal issues that arose.

After they were finished, the applications were given to Naffier to review and sign off on.

The family will now be called to the Des Moines Citizenship and Immigration Office to be fingerprinted for background checks, and if all goes well, they will receive their green cards within the next six months. They will be eligible to apply for U.S. citizenship in another four years.

“It was great knowing what joy they must have been feeling,” Dixit says. “They came from a place that is war-torn, and their children were born in a refugee camp. So it was an awesome experience to think that I’m helping this family become permanent residents in America.”

“With this particular community, they’ve been through so much,” Beach adds. “I like being a voice for them. Helping them get their green card so they can stay – it’s one small way to make their lives easier.”

Both Dixit and Beach plan to be involved in immigration law after they graduate from Drake, and Ross says he intends to practice law in a small community in Iowa with an immigrant population or workplaces that hire immigrant employees.

Dixit says the clinic was a great opportunity to get experience in the field as a law student.

“I would love to see this repeated and turn into a program that more students can get involved in,” she says. “It would be awesome if we could get more families the help that they need while getting more students exposed to immigration law.”

For more information about EMBARC, visit www.embarciowa.org. For more information about Justice for Our Neighbors, visit www.iajfon.org.