As an undergraduate at Case Western Reserve University, first-year Ohio Access to Justice Foundation Justice for All Fellow Victoria Hamilton interned for the InterReligious Task Force on Central America, a Cleveland-based nonprofit organization that works on education and advocacy around justice issues in Central America.
“I was really drawn to the global perspective and the way that United States policy affects other people across the world,” she said.
After undergrad, Hamilton headed to law school, where she continued to seek out opportunities with nonprofits who are using the law to help underserved populations. During a clerkship with Catholic Charities, the attorney’s relentless advocacy for immigrants inspired her and informed her decision to pursue immigration law as a career path.
Pursuing a Justice for All Fellowship was a natural next step. Together with her supervisor at Catholic Charities, Hamilton developed a fellowship proposal to provide a pro se clinic for immigrants seeking asylum.
“We did a lot of research, and asylum seekers continue to have a difficult time, despite the fact that it’s an international right,” Hamilton said. “It can be pretty inaccessible if you don’t have a lawyer.”
Hamilton said applying for asylum is very complicated, and because many immigrants don’t have an attorney to assist them with the process, it can be nearly impossible to attain.
“The initial application is pretty long, and it involves open-ended questions that ask about a person’s experience and fear of returning to their home country,” she said. “That can be really hard to navigate, especially without any sort of legal background.”
Establishing pro se assistance for asylum seekers was a need for Catholic Charities. The cases can take a long time to process, and because of that, Catholic Charities became backlogged and had to turn many cases away.
Hamilton was even more encouraged to pursue her fellowship when she saw other organizations implementing similar programs for asylum seekers.
“After seeing that organizations across the country had adopted a similar model, we thought it would be a great way to serve a population that was struggling to get assistance,” she said.
Hamilton looks forward to building relationships with potential volunteers, her coworkers, and the community at large because it takes an extensive network of support to get asylum seekers the help they need.
“We’re looking at working with attorneys, interpreters, and the clients themselves, so it’s a really interesting opportunity to get a lot of people involved to help a group that needs assistance that might not otherwise get it,” she said.
The Ohio Access to Justice Foundation funds law school graduates with a passion for public service to address urgent legal problems facing Ohioans. Meet the Justice for All Fellows.