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.
Sarah Abdulghani ’22 is a first year who became involved with TRII at the fall semester Involvement Fair at the beginning of the semester. Since then, she went through the semester-long training meetings in the fall and now is one of over 60 undergraduate students working within TRII.
A Massachusetts native, Abdulghani was born in Yemen. She immigrated with her parents to the United States from Morocco when she was four years old. Her mother is Moroccan and her father is Yemeni, and she experienced her family go through the naturalization process as a child. After graduating from Brandeis, Abdulghani wishes to attend law school and eventually become a judge. She is particularly interested in immigration law. “I feel like that’s one area of law not only that I connect with, but I feel like is underrepresented… there are so many stories I feel like, of people just not being taken care of and not having good legal counsel.”
For Abdulghani, TRII is a place of opportunity and resources. “We offer free legal counsel and representatives to people who are seeking just that… If you come into the office, whether you need help filling out an application, whether you have just a question, whether you need any sort of resources, whether you need a place to stay, whether you need some place to eat, anything of that nature, anything that you couldn’t find anywhere else, we’re here to help you, we’re here to connect you to people, we’re here to give you the representation that you deserve and you need,” said Abdulghani.
A lot of the clients that TRII takes are adults, some with families and some who have come by themselves. TRII representatives help them go through different parts of the immigration legal process, such as changing Visa status, applying for asylum or taking steps toward naturalization. “What we hope is that we become something that people can turn to when it feels as though there is nothing else because we don’t ever want people to feel as though there is absolutely nothing here for them,” said Abdulghani.
Abdulghani recently got her first client, so she works with other undergraduates to help her client through their legal processes. “For me, being an immigrant is such a big part of my identity and who I am… it’s definitely helped me shape how I look at things so I’m interested in everything and anything that has to do with immigration.”
It is an intensive process, as there are a lot of details to know about immigration law and information to remember. Abdulghani said she does a lot of outside research to keep informed. It is also a process that requires a lot of sensitivity, as people have varying experiences. “It’s very disheartening to hear some of the things that people go through, but at the same time, I think that’s what makes this whole experience worthwhile, that’s what makes it so rewarding, you know that you’re helping them and you can help them pave the pathway to something great in their life.” Abdulghani recalled a moment in the fall when a client of TRII’s gained their citizenship and how happy everyone was for them.
Abdulghani also mentioned that TRII is an important resource for the Brandeis community. From her personal experience with her parents going through the naturalization process and her aunt who was unable to do so because of the lengthy, difficult process, “I’ve seen first hand how long it is and how upsetting it is when people get denied or don’t have the money or can’t wait that long.”
“So for me, I never got to have my aunt here, but if I get to have someone else’s aunt come here, then that’s why I’m doing this. I want to be the bridge for someone else. I think it’s important for Brandeis as a school to have this type of program and encourage students to join it and help people… I think this is a very important topic considering this is a country of immigrants and especially because it is a very contested issue right now in politics, so I think it’s important for Brandeis to at least in some way be part of the conversation,” said Abdulghani.
“I think for me, I really value the fact that we get to talk to people and we get to learn about all these experiences and we get to learn about other countries, so I hope for me as a person I get to hear those stories and have them shape how I view things… I hope that this organization grows with its people, I hope we all learn from all the good things that we we do, and all the mistakes that we might make and that we make ourselves an organization that people can turn to.”