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Advocating for Asylum Seekers

July 27, 2023

Rachel Kabat L'25
Rachel Kabat L’25

Rachel Kabat L’25 shares her experience as a Global Justice Fellow working with the International Rescue Committee’s Denver branch.

This summer, with support from the University of Pennsylvania Carey Law School’s Global Justice Fellowship, a program of Penn Carey Law’s Office of International Affairs which supports international public interest summer internships for JD students, I had the opportunity to intern with the Denver branch of the International Rescue Committee (IRC).

As an international non-governmental organization, IRC works around the world to aid in the survival and recovery of those affected by humanitarian crises. However, in the United States, IRC’s branches function as refugee resettlement agencies, coordinating with the U.S. government and international organizations to help their clients adjust to a new life in the United States. The Denver office also hosts an expansive asylum representation program, providing legal services for those seeking permanent protection in the U.S. who cannot return to their country of origin due to persecution or a well-founded fear of persecution.

Hands-On Experience in Immigration Law

As an intern with the “Survivors of Torture” legal program, my summer was both rewarding and emotionally taxing. Immigration law can be complex and constantly in flux, and the stakes are extremely high for those seeking asylum. Our clients had experienced the worst humanity has to offer, and they came to the United States seeking safety. However, there is never a guarantee that the U.S. legal system will grant it.

My tasks to support these cases were diverse, engaging, and very hands-on. I interacted heavily with clients through messages, phone calls, and in-person interviews while working with interpreters who spoke languages ranging from French and Spanish to Tigrinya and Pulaar. To bolster our clients’ legal claims, I undertook extensive research to craft country conditions indexes, write memos, and help craft an appeal for a client who had lost her initial case. I even had the opportunity to witness firsthand how immigration court functions by attending a master calendar hearing.

Learning Beyond the Classroom

While this internship involved a significant number of first-time experiences for me, my first year of law school at Penn Carey Law prepared me to succeed. Both classroom experiences and numerous extracurriculars—international and human rights-oriented conferences, the Jessup International Moot Court, and the pro bono International Refugee Assistance Project—set me up for success in a field as diverse, challenging, and complex as immigration law. I’ve repeatedly leveraged the foundational research and writing skills I developed while working with Legal Practice SkillsSenior Lecturer Matthew Duncan L’03. Further, while immigration law is a field of its own, my work crafting asylum arguments revealed strong correlations with the principles of international and human rights law, which I studied in “International Law” with Jacques deLisle, Stephen A. Cozen Professor of Law.

Despite the challenges of this career path, I found great mentors at IRC. The empathy, tenacity, and ingenuity of immigration lawyers and representatives, and their tireless work despite the high rates of asylum denial, was extremely inspiring. Their insight and encouragement have been invaluable. Going forward, I know this experience will motivate me on my career path, both during my time at Penn Carey Law and beyond.

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