This is the eighteenth installment of our Alumni Spotlight series, which features interviews with former IRAP students who have become strong advocates and leaders in their fields of practice.
Meet George Najjar, former member of the IRAP chapter at Columbia Law School, and current Corporate Associate at Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom LLP.
The views expressed here are entirely his own.
How did you become involved with IRAP and how did IRAP impact your law school experience?
When I first heard that there was an organization like IRAP at Columbia Law School, I immediately reached out to the chapter chairs expressing my interest in joining. As a grandchild of refugees fleeing the Armenian and Assyrian Genocides of the late Ottoman Empire, as a son of parents that left their Levantine homes of Syria and Lebanon because of eminent war or economic strangulation, and as a cousin of many family members that have had to flee the violence of the Syrian civil war and ISIS encroachment, an organization like IRAP touches a deeply personal note that spans generations of my family’s history. I can confidently say that IRAP was the single most important experience of my law school career, both in terms of how much I learned about the intricacies of American and international immigration law, but also in terms of personal fulfillment and knowing that my work was helping to radically change and save people’s lives that look like or are similarly situated as people in my own family.
IRAP’s law school chapter members provide aid to our clients and support for our legal, litigation, and policy advocacy initiatives. Please describe your experience working on IRAP projects to secure and expand pathways to safety for displaced people.
After joining IRAP, I became involved in as many ways as I could. I started out as a caseworker for an Iraqi SIV case and as a 1L Representative before becoming co-chair of the Columbia Law School IRAP chapter. I am eternally proud of our chapter being honored as law school chapter of the year the following year! In addition to my work with my law school chapter, during my last semester of law school, I did a full-time internship at IRAP’s NYC office in connection with the New York State Pro Bono Scholars program where I worked on a variety of matters, including SIV cases, client intakes, resettlement interview preparation, Central American Minors family reunification work and research on unique client matters.
What have you been doing since you graduated from law school?
After working for two years in New York City as an associate at a corporate law firm, I recently made the move to Skadden’s Los Angeles office, where I work as a corporate associate with a focus on capital markets.
In what ways has your involvement with IRAP in law school impacted your career?
Although my corporate work does not directly touch upon refugee issues, the skills that I learned through IRAP are invaluable. Through IRAP, I learned organizational management, communication skills, and professional conduct. I still use those skills every day! I’ve continued to be involved in immigration/refugee-related pro bono work and will continue to do so for the rest of my career.
At a time when refugees have been more politicized than ever, how do you engage with the issue on a personal level?
It’s certainly not a light burden to carry hearing and seeing the hostilities hurled in the direction of refugees and immigrants, particularly when your own family is made up of or is currently a part of those targeted groups. Considering that the history of humankind is a history of migration, it’s outrageous to see literal and legal walls put up against our own collective human history. I always try to stay informed on these issues, whether it’s knowing what is currently happening in the world from Tigray, Ethiopia to the besieged Gaza Strip to ICE concentration camps on the American border or on a historical basis regarding the weaponization of immigrants for fear mongering, union busting, or colonization. The only way for us to achieve change is through collective action and that is only going to happen if we are able to dispel the misinformation being put out there against targeted populations using informed historical fact and current data against waves of xenophobic propaganda. In personal and professional interactions, I always keep in mind that each could change the mind of yet another individual in the hopes of reaching collective liberation.