TRII advocates and their stories: Sam Ades

The Right to Immigration Institute (TRII), founded at Brandeis, is a unique organization that trains undergraduates to become accredited representatives in immigration courts and to gain legal experience firsthand. It allows for immigrants to receive assistance with many types of legal processes, making sure they have the support and the knowledge they need.

Sam Ades ’21 is a history and politics double major, with a minor in film, television and interactive media. Ades is on TRII’s E-board serving as secretary, and is working with two clients on applying for status through asylum.

Ades joined TRII in the fall semester of his first year, and went through the training program to learn “all the different intricacies of the immigration system and the asylum process.” Ades explained that he has always been interested in law and politics but didn’t know much about the immigration system.

“It’s been really eye-opening because you kind of assume that there’s a certain system of justice that occurs in the immigration court system but in my experience, it’s more or less a bureaucratic nightmare… it makes you realize that someone going through this process by themselves, especially if their first language isn’t English, would be nearly impossible. I wouldn’t have been able to do it had I been faced with this situation,” said Ades.

Ades’ father and his father’s parents came to the United States as refugees from Egypt “facing religious and political discrimination.” This has greatly influenced Ades in working at TRII and focusing on asylum cases.

“Since arriving in the 60s, achieving asylum has become exponentially harder with restrictionist policies put in place in order to dissuade people from applying in the U.S. I’m exceptionally proud of TRII’s commitment to activism and our efforts to bring more awareness to the damage these policies inflict on our community in Waltham,” said Ades.

At the end of last year, Ades got even more involved in the organization by taking on clients and stepped into the role of secretary this year. As secretary, he helps to organize meetings and lectures, and sends weekly emails to TRII. He is also involved in the transition that the organization is undergoing to standardize TRII practices and develop a training manual.

There are three undergraduate students and one graduate student at TRII who are currently accredited to serve as immigration representatives. Ades is in the process of applying for his accreditation as well. Aside from that, Ades meets with clients once or twice a week with his team of other students, including TRII president Sara Hogenboom ’21 and legal director and professor Doug Smith (LGLS) to work on the clients’ applications.

Ades said that 90 percent of asylum applicants are rejected if they do not have representation and if they do, “it’s only 50/50, so even with someone that knows the legal system, that knows what the judge is looking for, and that will be able to train the asylee for interviews, it’s almost random.” For that reason, Ades said it is important for Brandeis to have an organization such as TRII that tries to get involved with the local immigrant community and give undergraduate students the opportunity to be involved.

“Typically undergraduates aren’t given the opportunity to take on asylum applicants, but hopefully that will change, especially now that there is a backlog of 800,000 or so cases and people are waiting years and years just for a trial,” said Ades. He also mentioned that the process is incredibly long, and mentioned an asylum application that was submitted recently that was around 1,400 pages long. “It’s full of expert testimony, expert reports that you have to compile and everything, and I don’t think people realize how well documented and well supported your application has to be.” With the help of TRII, community members are better equipped to face the lengthy process.

Ades said through TRII he has been able to work with “truly amazing people that have gone through some of the worst circumstances imaginable,” and the support from the organization helps everyone to feel as comfortable as possible, especially when discussing more difficult topics or when overwhelmed with the workload. While it does involve a lot of writing, reading and research, Ades says these skills are easily transferred to other classes.

One of Ades’ best memories in TRII so far is when one of his clients opened up to him and his team. “It took about 3 months of meeting twice a week to get him comfortable and to be able to open up with us and fully share his story… that was a big breakthrough that he felt comfortable with us and going forward it’s helped a lot to establish that type of connection,” said Ades.

Ades’ advice to students who want to get involved? It can be a big time commitment, “but it really is what you make of it.” For students interested in joining TRII, the training will begin next semester in the first or second week of classes.

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