Editor’s Note: Each summer Penn Law students hone their skills through a wide array of private and public sector internships across the country and around the world. Generous financial support and fellowships for international and public interest work enable students to pursue diverse assignments in the U.S. and abroad. This dispatch from Mariam Khokhar L’14 is one in a series of firsthand accounts by Law School students about how their summer employment opportunities are preparing them for their legal careers. Khokhar, who was born in Pakistan and grew up in northern New Jersey, plans to work upon graduation in the non-profit sector with refugees and asylum seekers. With support from the Equal Justice Foundation, she spent the summer in New York with Human Rights First, an independent advocacy and action organization.
Strengthening a Commitment to Refugees
I have been interning this summer with the Refugee Protection Program at Human Rights First (HRF) in New York City. After working for five years at various human-rights and development-focused non-profits and international organizations, I came to Penn knowing that I wanted to focus on refugee law. My summer with HRF has reinforced this for me.
Through its partnership with pro bono attorneys, HRF’s Asylum Legal Representation Program currently represents more than 1,000 clients from 88 countries. The majority of my work this summer has consisted of helping conduct intake interviews with asylum-seekers. After these detailed interviews, HRF determines whether a particular client’s case can be placed with a pro bono attorney who will then guide the asylum-seeker through the maze that is the U.S. immigration system. I have arranged these interviews, interpreted for Spanish-speaking clients, and prepared the write-ups based on which HRF makes its decisions.
I’ve also had the opportunity to interview a potential client who is detained at a Newark facility, to screen asylum-seekers who do not have legal representation at the immigration court in New York City, and to help a potential client prepare her I-589 asylum application. My favorite part of my summer with HRF has been the client interaction, which has been central to most of my work.
In addition to this substantive work with the Refugee Protection Program, I was selected by HRF to be this year’s New York Frankel Fellow. This fellowship recognizes Judge Marvin Frankel’s commitment and contributions to human rights issues, including his role as a HRF board member for more than 20 years. For this fellowship, I worked with the Washington, D.C., Frankel Fellow to organize weekly lectures for HRF staff and interns. The lecturers ranged from HRF employees to senior staff from various human rights non-profits, business and human rights professors, and the U.N. Special Rapporteur on Torture. Through the Frankel Fellowship, I have had the opportunity to connect with and meet many people in the human rights field whose work I greatly respect.
Professor Chang-Muy’s Refugee Law class and Professor Chang’s Immigration course at Penn Law immensely helped prepare me for my internship with HRF. I am also extremely grateful for the grant I received from the Equal Justice Foundation, which permitted me to have this incredible summer experience.