Zachary Handelsman

I found it surprising that I could sit in front of a computer screen for six hours on a Zoom meeting, two days a week, and yet still be interested by the entire meeting. During our biweekly meetings with the cohort and Tyler, our Summer Director, I found myself enjoying diving into every single topic that we learned about. One of these topics that really stood out to me was the meeting about immigration. During this lesson there were two segments that I found most memorable.

The first of these was the speakers. We had three young adult refugees, who go to Brandeis, join our meeting to talk to us about their experiences. The refugee crisis has always felt distant to me, but meeting some people involved in it, even virtually, really brought it to my attention. I learned about being persecuted by foreign governments, and what it is like to live in a refugee camp, as well as a lot more of the struggles of coming to America while seeking refuge. All three of these speakers were both very inspiring and informative. I really enjoyed this portion of the meeting.

The other part of this lesson that stood out to me was learning about immigration law. I chose to specifically study refugee law, as I wanted to learn more about what the speakers had said. After learning more about the law, I was thoroughly disappointed. The way the law works around getting refugee status makes no sense at all.  In immigration court, if you are a refugee, you need to pay for your own attorney if you want one, and if you don’t speak English, you need to pay for your own translator. This stuck out to me because, for American citizens, these services are provided by the court. This shows how the court system does not help those who need assistance the most, and instead caters to those who are more likely to be well off. However, this gets even worse. If you are seeking refugee status, then you are not even allowed to work until some time after you get your status in court. I still do not understand why the courts expect people fleeing persecution and sometimes trekking many miles through Central America, or taking other routes to get to the US, to already have the money to afford a place to live, as well as services that are free for everyone else in America. It is so hypocritical to essentially require someone to have money to get refugee status, but also not allow them to work. It is one of the many examples of how American law is flawed, especially with regard to immigration and the systematic oppression of minorities and those in poverty.

Learning about these laws really made me think about American politics and how no one really cares about the people who need help in our country, even if they say they do. People promise to make changes to the system, but they rarely fulfill them. It is why we have not seen positive change with regard to the immigration and refugee system in decades. This encourages me to take on this challenge and I hope that over the years I will be able to influence immigration policy, through both politics and advocacy. I am grateful that just one of our meetings out of the many inspired me so much to do my best to make change.


Zachary Handelsman
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