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.
Jonathan Goldman ’19 is a politics and philosophy double major and the relations director of TRII. He is also one of the co-founders of TRII, a member on the Board of Directors and an accredited representative through the Department of Justice and the Office of Legal Access Programs.
Outside of TRII, Goldman is also involved with playing squash on campus and is a member of the Democratic State Committee. He also works for an outside company as an Inventory and Tech Analyst. His role in TRII during its founding, including many basic administrative duties, was much different than it is now. Currently, he is working on a strategic five-year plan to expand TRII outside of Brandeis. By going through the planning process, “we’re more narrowly defining what people’s roles are. The goal is for my role to fall into expanding TRII outside of Brandeis,” said Goldman.
The TRII office is located at 24 Crescent Street in Waltham, around the corner from popular brunch restaurant In A Pickle. A day in the life of a TRII advocate is ever-changing and often hectic. Goldman described his normal daily operations to The Hoot, based on his experiences that Monday: he came into the office at 9 a.m., where students had already been meeting with a client. From there, he helped a volunteer attorney from Brazil get set up for her day, picked up a member of TRII to attend a workshop, rushed back to the office to finish applications with clients and worked with other students to make sure that all forms and cases were updated. Goldman is also working with another student in TRII to develop an art installation “focused on immigration and the environment” through the Blueprint Projects in Waltham, MA.
“I’m interested in working with people and doing something good… my drive involved with TRII is not so much connected to my immigration background, but I think in some ways being born in another country has informed, in some ways, the way that I think about immigration,” said Goldman. He was born in Denmark and immigrated to the United States at the age of two. He also attended Danish summer school for three years, and spent time studying abroad in Denmark for a summer. Goldman discussed his ease in the process of obtaining dual citizenship, and how the ease of his personal process informed him how broken the system can be for others, saying “there’s so much more that we need to do.”
The process to become a member of TRII involves a training program during the fall semester, after which you can take an exam to qualify for membership. Then, students can come into the Waltham office, do intakes and work with clients on cases. Once they have 60 hours of hands-on experience doing casework, they can apply with the Department of Justice to become accredited representatives—there are two levels of certification. The certifications allow students to be able to give legal advice, and represent people before the Department of Homeland Security. Goldman explained that these two levels of certification are the “only in-court legal experience you can have in law, without a legal degree.”
A positive experience that Goldman fondly remembers is when his first client called him to tell him that she became a citizen. “When she called me, she was screaming, she sounded like she had won the lottery and it was just like such a fulfilling experience,” said Goldman. After spending time with her and learning so much about her story, it felt like a victory not just for himself but for someone that he felt tied to in a unique way. He also shared a moment from last semester, in which around 100 people came to TRII’s introductory meeting, proving that the organization provides a mission statement that resonates with many members of the Brandeis community and fueled its members throughout the training process.
A challenge that Goldman has run into is related to the fact that TRII is still a new organization, and that everyone is learning as they go along. While he feels that TRII has succeeded in developing a compelling message and image, the organization continues to try and improve operating systems within the club to give students resources to turn to when they are faced with questions or concerns, thus allowing for more one-on-one connections with students. “I would rather put in the time to see how people are, than view it as a statistic for our organization; if you do everything in numbers you lose the human side of what you’re trying to do,” he said.
“It’s not an internship, it’s not a volunteer experience, it’s something different,” said Goldman. “Something I often tell clients when they come in is ‘our job is to make your lives as un-stressful as possible, we’re here to make sure you don’t have to think about this, we’ll answer the questions you’re worried about because this isn’t something you should have to worry about,’” said Goldman.
When asked why TRII is important to the Brandeis campus, Goldman explained that it is vital to have such an organization because “so much of immigration is based on facts and characteristics that are outside the people’s control. And that should not be a determining factor on your life.” He explained that factors such as the country one is born in, religion or financial status should not limit the opportunities given in life to that person, and “they should not be the things that are limiting your ability to live the life you want to live.”
In the future, Goldman hopes to expand TRII to other universities if possible. “I think TRII will exist until it just can’t exist anymore,” said Goldman about the systems put into place to make sure that TRII can survive for years to come. He explained that TRII has the possibility to spread to other college campuses and how exciting it would be to be able to say that it all started at Brandeis.
Goldman also expressed that being a part of TRII has been rewarding in the ways that students learn to see each other differently and confront their own biases. For members who have personal experiences with immigration and for those who don’t, there is always something new to be learned from clients and their individual experiences and from one another in TRII.