Victoria St. Jean ’19 and Jonathan Goldman ’19 are the recipients of the 2017 Davis Projects for Peace Prize. They received the prize through The Right to Immigration Institute (TRII), a nonprofit organization they created. TRII focuses on providing representation and assistance to asylum seekers in immigration proceedings.
The Davis Projects for Peace encourages college students to develop projects for peace that they will put into action during the summer of 2017, according to the Brandeis website. Recipients of the prize win a grant of $10,000 to implement their projects.
“One of the main reasons so few people are accredited representatives is due to the high cost,” Goldman and St. Jean wrote in their grant proposal. They are both taking a six-week intensive immigration court training class. They plan to use the grant money to develop a representation training course for TRII that will be offered to undergraduate students and others who are interested in order to mitigate the cost of becoming an accredited representative.
“The TRII Representation Training would give people the skills necessary to help asylum seekers in court, complete cases and become accredited representatives with the Board of Immigration Appeals. This would also expand the undergraduate base of TRII and expand the supply of help for asylum applicants,” Goldman and St. Jean stated.
From May until June, Goldman and St. Jean will be doing research to draft the training program. During July and August, they plan to finalize the training course and have it reviewed by field experts, according to their proposal. The course will be modeled after the Catholic Legal Immigration Network’s Comprehensive Overview of Immigration Law program, and will also use Prof. Douglas Smith’s (LGLS) expertise and other training materials.
In addition to creating a training course to get students accredited, members of TRII are working with the Waltham Public Schools to create a citizenship program for students and families who need assistance with citizenship paperwork. Mary Jo Rendón, co-chair of the Newcomers Academy program for Waltham Public Schools, requested help from TRII because the families she works with have a serious need for assistance. TRII’s program could “help keep several children in school since they would no longer need to fear they could be deported,” according to TRII’s grant proposal.
Goldman and St. Jean also hope to use the grant money to expand TRII. “One, we can pay for administrative costs such as liability insurance, phone bills, website and filing fees. Two, we can pay for the initial workshops necessary for us to create the representation training and citizenship program. Three, we can pay for travel expenses to and from Boston to meet with partners and go to immigration court. The work of expanding would be started and completed over the summer. However, the effects would go beyond those months,” they wrote in their proposal.
“When we received notification that we were being awarded the grant, we were obviously excited, but it didn’t really sink in until later that night how big of an impact the grant will have on our ability to expand TRII and achieve our goals. We have received an outpouring of support from friends, family, faculty and staff on campus, and we are grateful, not only for the Davis committee, but also for everyone who has helped us in building TRII,” St. Jean said.
Goldman and St. Jean spent about three or four months working on the proposal for the Davis Projects award. “We had just come off of applying for another grant and applying for 501(c)(3) status, so we were feeling a bit burnt out. But when we heard about this award, it inspired us to push through. We worked several hours a week over the few months we worked on this award, but it was a worthwhile endeavor, “ Goldman said.
TRII was created at the beginning of the Fall 2016 semester. Munis Safajou ’16 and St. Jean both expressed their interest in starting the organization to Smith, who teaches the immigration and human rights class in the legal studies department. “During the class, he mentioned that students could potentially become accredited representatives to help non-citizens through immigration proceedings. We were inspired by this idea and decided to start an organization that would focus on connecting students to immigration law trainings and becoming a recognized institution they could work for. Shortly after, I asked Jonathan to join me, Prof. Smith and Munis, since he was currently in the immigration and human rights class,” St. Jean said.
So far, TRII received 501(c)3 status from the IRS in October, won the Brenda Meehan Social Justice In Action Grant for its Brandeis Citizenship Day event, which is on Tuesday, April 4, and won the Davis Projects for Peace Prize.
“Since Prof. Smith is a licensed attorney and Jonathan, Munis and I recently completed a Comprehensive Overview of Immigration Law course through the Catholic Legal Immigration Network, we will be applying for institutional recognition and individual accreditation through the Office of Legal Access Programs within the next month,” according to St. Jean.