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Penn Law graduate advocates for refugees who can’t access counsel

March 07, 2016

When individuals apply for admission to the United States as a refugee, they cannot bring an attorney to their interviews. Now, with support from a Chubb Rule of Law Fund Grant, Kathleen Norland L’13 is conducting a “Refugee Access to Counsel” project, collecting testimony from refugees who do not have access to counsel about their interview process and how having a lawyer would have been helpful.

Norland is the Middle East Field Director for the International Refugee Assistance Project (formerly the Iraqi Refugee Assistance Project) at the Urban Justice Center, an organization that organizes law students and lawyers to develop and enforce a system of legal and human rights for refugees through direct legal aid and policy advocacy.

When individuals apply for asylum from within the United States, Norland explained, they are allowed to be represented by an attorney at their own expense, including having the attorney accompany them to their adjudicatory interviews and hearings. She noted that numerous studies, including U.S. government studies, have shown that the presence of an attorney makes an applicant three to four times more likely to be granted relief.

When an individual applies as a refugee, however, they are denied the right to bring an attorney to their interviews, she said, even though the legal standard being applied is identical.

“As an attorney representing some of the most vulnerable refugees in the Middle East, including those fleeing ISIS’s reign of terror and the Assad regime’s brutal war on Syria’s civilian population, I think it’s a shame that some of these same procedural rights are not extended to them,” said Norland. “This grant will help IRAP advocate for change in USCIS policy in order to make legal representation available to more refugees.”

“The Chubb Rule of Law Fund is proud to have supported Kate Norland’s efforts to create a stronger legal framework for the fair evaluation of refugee asylum claims,” said Nicola Christine Port, Senior Vice President and International Counsel at Chubb. “Kate’s work exemplifies the Fund’s mission to eliminate barriers of every kind and in every place to the fair administration of justice.”

“Penn Law is at the forefront of tackling some of the intractable challenges of our time globally,” said Rangita de Silva de Alwis, Penn Law’s Associate Dean for International Programs. “We value our partnership with Chubb in advancing the human rights of refugees. Never before in history have we seen this mass exodus of people who are forced to leave their countries and forced to seek refuge in other parts of the world. Law schools like Penn Law and young lawyers like Kate Norland have a critical role to play in making the human rights guarantees of all people real.” 

Since graduating from Penn Law, Norland has worked extensively in refugee representation and advocacy. As the Law School’s first Chubb Rule of Law & Human Rights Fellow, she spent a year working with Human Rights First’s Refugee Protection Program, which advances the rights of refugees. As a law student, she founded the Penn Law chapter of IRAP.