On Friday the 21st of February, IRAP held its annual Advocacy Day where we welcomed 60 students from IRAP law school chapters to Capitol Hill. Students gathered from all across the United States for the day’s agenda, which consisted of a record 50 meetings with Congressional and Senate offices — the most legislators students have met with in a single Advocacy Day.
Student advocates spent the day meeting with members of Congress and their staff to discuss a range of issues facing refugees and other vulnerable displaced persons, including the NO BAN Act, the Special Immigrant Visa (SIV) Program, refugee security vetting, and the Migrant Protection Protocols. Congress created the SIV program to provide a pathway to safety for those who risked their lives serving with the U.S. forces in their country and have come under threat as a result; however, there is currently an application backlog of more than 10,000 people. Students addressed this issue with staff members in an effort to authorize more visas so that their promise of safety can be fulfilled.
Regarding the NO BAN Act, Hannah Umansky-Castro, a 2L at New York University School of Law expressed that “many [Democratic] offices had sent letters urging the Speaker to send the NO BAN to the floor in the coming months. Staffers repeatedly asked us for more ways they could become involved in supporting refugee rights, the NO BAN Act, and the SIV program.”
Khatia Mikadze, a 2L at Washington College of Law at American University who met with staffers from the offices of Representative Ilhan Omar (D-Minnesota) and Senator Pat Toomey (R-Pennsylvania), added: “All of the staff members, despite their political affiliation, sympathized with our cause.”
On what was most exciting about the day, Justin Loveland, who is Seattle University’s chapter director, shared how he was “first and foremost excited about the amount of students who came out to support IRAP,” and that some of the exciting challenges of the day included how to “get a feel of the skills and diplomacy necessary to navigate the reality of politics.”
The sense of community created by gathering for Advocacy Day was shared by many of the students.
Khatia appreciated the opportunity to connect with “so many like-minded advocates who share the same passion, assuring me that there is still a sense of hope and we may be gaining more supporters across the aisle. It truly was an unforgettable experience.”