On Saturday, Oct. 10th, the Clinic hosted Refugee Adjustment Day. During this event, dozens of refugees from places like Burma, Eritrea, and various Middle Eastern nations came to the Clinic to receive assistance with completing and filing paperwork for legal permanent residency, more commonly known as applying for their green cards. Thanks to dozens of volunteers and support staff, the Clinic was able to serve 51 clients in one day!
Brandon Fitzsimmons, the Immigrant Justice Program Manager and the person responsible for coordinating much of Refugee Adjustment Day, says, “It can be pretty daunting … when you’re dealing with things that can make or break you like your legal status.” Rachel VanTyle, the lead staff attorney for RAD, adds that mass volunteer events like this are important for the community and for efficiency’s sake. She says, “What it would take me 4 months to do, we can do in 8 hours with this many volunteers.” Such days also give the Clinic the opportunity to provide services for which we might lack funding. Rachel explains that each application, if completed by a paid attorney, would cost roughly $500 per client. Therefore, by relying on volunteers to help so many people at once, the Clinic is able to provide more than $25,000 worth of services that might otherwise be impossible.
Brian Dunkel, another staff attorney at the event, thinks RAD and similar volunteer efforts can also help educate the community about who refugees really are. He says, “One thing to remember is that a refugee is lawfully resettled in a community by the U.S. State Department, so it’s not that refugees are here illegally. They’re here because of the turmoil and really the catastrophes that have happened in the region of the world that they’re in—whether that’s war or natural disaster or persecution—those are the reasons that bring refugees here. So they are folks that are a very compelling group of people to serve because of what they’ve been through and the fact that they’re here. They’re in our community; they are now our neighbors.”
Although many of the volunteers at RAD are connected to the Clinic through friends, family, church affiliations, etc. one volunteer, Audrey Mulholland, simply performed a Google search for local opportunities to help refugees before settling on the Clinic. For the past year, she lived in India working for International Justice Mission. She says, “I was here [in Indianapolis] just waiting for my visa to go back overseas, to go back and play an active role in human rights. But then I realized those issues can be addressed and resolved here—wherever you are—by being involved and helping organizations like Neighborhood Christian Legal Clinic.”
Big volunteer events like these run smoothly now, although Rachel says there was initially a learning curve. She recalls the first year and a man who had to wait several hours to speak with an attorney. When Rachel apologized to the man, she says he replied, “You know, I waited for like 4 years in a refugee camp—I can wait a few hours to see an attorney.” Rachel laughs and cocks her head at the memory. “If that’s not a huge dose of perspective, I’m not quite sure what is.”
Photos by Anna Wolak