For the spring semester of my junior year I am interning with a non-profit organization called Human Rights First (HRF), formerly called the Lawyers Commission for Human Rights. My office is right on Capitol Hill so the two views I have out of my office window are of the Capitol Building and the Washington Monument—arguably the best office view in the building!
I am loving it here! My job is really great—everything I had hoped it would be. HRF operates five different human rights programs: Refugee Protection, Human Rights Defenders, Crimes Against Humanity, Law & Security, and Fighting Discrimination. While I’ll be doing some work across all five programs, I am mainly working with the Refugee Protection Program (RPP).
As you might deduce from its former title, Human Rights First is very much law-based. The Refugee Protection Program deals only with political asylum so our main clientele are immigrants and refugees seeking political asylum. We provide pro-bono lawyers to those who are unable to afford legal assistance. So refugees from Africa—mainly Ethiopia and Sudan—and Latin America—mainly El Salvador—seek out HRF if they have fled their country and are afraid to go back out of fear of torture or persecution. Some of the clients have no visa or green card and have illegally crossed the boarder in search of political asylum, so the work HRF does is tough, but very important.
Our job is to begin the legal process, so when the refugees/immigrants come to us, we have a hearing/intake that lasts about 3 hours. This intake serves to document and understand the client’s story and then determine whether one of our pro-bono lawyers will be able to take their case. I've sat through a couple hearings and the stories are pretty heartbreaking and tragic. One woman from Honduras has escaped persecution and her entire family was killed by the militants from the recent coup, so it’s pretty hard to hear these stories.
Specifically, my job is to sit through these hearings and take notes of the transcript – everything the client says in response to the questions asked by the interviewer. After those three hours or so are up, I have a week to prepare a formal write-up of the intake. This includes the typed up and edited transcript of the intake, a credibility report, and a country conditions report. All in all the write-up comes to about 25 pages, so I definitely have my work cut out for me! I’ve been learning so much! It’s a relief not to be doing busy work and to actually be doing work that is educational and important!
HRF also has a foot in the political door as well. Aside from the fact that the Capitol Building is just across the street, Human Rights First provides many Blueprints for the Obama Administration; these Blueprints are essentially policy proposals on certain global human rights issues and these publications are submitted to the Obama Administration for consideration. Thus, I have had a few very cool political experiences since I’ve been with HRF, those being attending congressional hearings on certain issues at hand. It’s incredible to sit in the Senate and House offices and listen to the Congressmen and women debate these issues on the table. It is quite a different experience listening to a congressional panel as opposed to reading about the highlights of the hearings!