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Guest Post: IRAP’s First Lobby Day

Sophia Nnadi, a first-year law student at American University Washington College of Law (WCL), joined over thirty students from IRAP law school chapters across the country for IRAP’s first Lobby Day on Capitol Hill. Throughout the day, IRAP representatives met with over 45 Congressional offices to discuss refugee admissions and legislation supporting Afghan and Iraqi Special Immigrant Visa (SIV) recipients. Below is Sophia’s personal account of the day.

On November 3, 2017, a group of law students from my law school, American University, as well as from NYU, Yale, Georgetown, Northwestern, University of Connecticut, and Columbia, accompanied by staff members from IRAP’s policy team, gathered together to speak to our nation’s representatives on IRAP’s first Lobby Day. It was a thrilling experience to work with my motivated peers to help advocate for the thousands of refugees affected by the recent travel bans and changes in the Special Immigrant Visa (SIV) program. While I am sure this day held different meanings in the hearts of those who participated in the events, to me, it was an affirmation of the career I want to pursue and the commitment I am willing to make to advocate for all refugees.

I recently joined my law school’s IRAP chapter, particularly the policy and legislative team, because I wanted to make a lasting effect on the lives of refugees around the world. I have grown up and interacted with large immigrant and refugee communities my whole life. I have heard stories of strife, struggle, and prejudice. I have heard of the heartbreak and determination among these groups. While I sympathize with each of their situations and commend them on their perseverance, I believe there is much more I can do than offer my sympathy. My goal in joining IRAP was to play a part in changing these individuals’ stories; for me, Lobby Day was a small taste of doing just that.

I am grateful to be given the opportunity to join other law students from around the country and meet with our hometown representatives to discuss our nation’s pressing immigration and refugee policy issues. Among the many meetings I attended, I met with a few representatives who strongly acknowledged their opposition to the travel ban and their concerns for Afghan Special Immigrant Visa (SIV) recipients. I also met with one representative who was not keen on removing the travel ban, because he believed in the need for heightened vetting; however, he was fully supportive of protecting refugees who served alongside U.S. military forces. Meeting with these policymakers and voicing our concern about the current refugee crisis felt like a small step towards ameliorating refugee rights for those seeking to enter the U.S. Overall, my personal takeaway from Lobby Day was that tangible systemic change really has to come from advocacy organizations such as IRAP, not only those making the decisions on Capitol Hill.

Refugee rights should not merely be assessed in economic terms or used as a poker chip to push other agendas through. Neither should refugee policies favor one group over another group. Many of those who have the power to make policy changes, ultimately lack the knowledge and motivation to do so. Thus, we must be able to supplement these policymakers with expert information, data, and real stories from those affected. It is crucial that we, as advocates for displaced persons, remain vigilant about laws that are passed and issues that are discussed. We must continue to use our voices and remain forceful in our movement toward resolving refugee issues.

Students pose with a “Refugees Welcome” sign in front of Rep. Hakeem Jeffries’ office.

WCL students at the U.S. Capitol building.