When Yijia Wang ’22 came to the U.S. from China as an international student, she experienced culture shock, language barriers, and a sudden transition from being an ethno-racial majority to being a minority. This fueled her passion for helping immigrants, particularly asylum seekers.

At Colorado College, Wang found support to engage with matters of immigration. She received community engagement mini-grant funds to support pro se (acting as one’s own lawyer) asylum clinics that help Afghan evacuees facing uncertain legal status and financial adversity with their asylum applications.

The CC Career Center then made her aware of an internship opportunity. As a legal  intern at Family Immigration Services of Catholic Charities, Wang offers pro-bono immigration support for Colorado Springs clients with asylum cases.

Since the Taliban imposed draconian restrictions and oppressions against Afghan women, former government affiliates, and ethnic and religious minorities, millions of Afghans have been persecuted, mistreated, and killed. Some Afghan evacuees successfully fled to the U.S., where they continue to face difficulties and stress due to language barriers, separation from their families, uncertain legal status, job insecurity, and financial challenges.

“There are many ways that people can legally immigrate to the U.S., and seeking asylum is perhaps one of the more difficult ways,” Wang says.

As part of the Afghan workshop team, Wang conducted extensive country conditions research, collected statements from clients, tailored evidence to support each client’s specific claim, and prepared immigration-related documents.

Wang says this work has meant a lot to her.

“My dream career is to become an immigration attorney and defend immigrants against injustice and systemic oppression. This work brings me closer to my dream,” she says.

Students pose following the last session of Aprender Mediante Amistad at Mann Middle School, Colorado Springs, on May 2022. AMA is a CC student-led organization that supports high school and middle school students who speak English as a second language. Photo by Kimberly Stone

Colorado College offers several other programs and opportunities for students to get involved in immigration matters. Aprender Mediante Amistad — a student organization — assists children whose parents are unable to help their children with homework due to language barriers. AMA helps children improve their reading and homework skills.

CC Refugee Alliance connects students, faculty, and staff with refugees and asylum seekers in Colorado Springs. Members help refugees achieve self-sufficiency in the U.S. by tutoring them and supporting other community movements, such as the Colorado Springs Sanctuary Coalition.

Academic work at the college also engages immigration matters. Courses allow students to apply theory directly and engage in critical experiential learning.

Julieta Lechini ’22 holds the Student Initiative Award that student organization Aprender Mediante Amistad received in May 2022 from the CC Collaborative Community Engagement. Photo courtesy of Julieta Lechini.

Julieta Lechini ’22 got involved in immigration work at CC because, as a migrant herself, she understood a lot of their struggles, while also recognizing the tools she had at her disposal to provide “at least a little bit of change,” she says. Lechini received a mini-grant from the Collaborative for Community Engagement and a CC Venture Grant to assist her research and work. The Anthropology Department supported her throughout this process and the academic work that preceded it, she says.

Lechini interned for Idas y Vueltas, a nonprofit organization that assists migrants in Uruguay. Her responsibilities included drafting policy recommendations and answering questions about migrants’ rights in access to housing. She started projects, including establishing an observatory for migration and housing that united research, institutional diagnosis, and evaluations, and followed up on individual cases — working alongside caseworkers and psychologists. Lechini also did ethnographic work for her thesis in Anthropology, titled “Derecho de Piso: Access to Home in the Path Towards Uruguayan Citizenship for Cuban Migrants.”

“I had an incredible opportunity to use my academic background and the resources of CC to try to make a change and do so through diverse projects and years of involvement,” says Lechini.