Special Immigrant Juvenile Status (SIJS) at Jewish Family and Community Services

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By: Harman Gill ’24

This summer, I had the privilege to work as a legal intern at Jewish Family and Community Services. The Immigration Legal Services department at JFCS provides legal assistance to clients who would not otherwise be able to access them. It was one of the best learning experiences of my life. I am thankful to Francis M. Letro and Cindy Letro for the opportunity to pursue this internship through the Buffalo Public Interest Law Program. It was an opportunity I would otherwise not have the financial support to pursue.

I walked into the office with no idea of what I ought to be doing, and I was lucky to have enthusiastic, passionate attorneys guide us through the nuances of an area of the law that we knew little of. Within a week, we were all interviewing clients, filling out applications, and drafting legal documents. 

Before working at JFCS, I had to undergo extensive background checks as I would be working with children. More specifically, I worked with Unaccompanied Minors, children who arrived in the United States without a parent or a guardian. The particular types of cases I generally worked on were Special Immigrant Juvenile Status (SIJS) cases. A child is eligible for SIJS if they have suffered abuse, abandonment, or neglect by one or both parents. 

It was indeed a bit challenging, yet it was very rewarding to be able to make a tangible difference in the lives of children who have been through so much. For each of these children, we were trying to build the most robust case for why it was in their best interest to remain in the United States while also being sensitive to the trauma they may have previously experienced. Being sensitive to your client’s needs might mean ending your direct examination early if you have established what you need to establish and your client is having a difficult time.

I also had the opportunity to witness firsthand how invaluable it is to have a good rapport with your clients and have them trust you. Especially in a situation where they might otherwise feel uncomfortable sharing details that are crucial to their case and, as a result, face an uncertain future and possibly removal proceedings.

The highlight of this internship, and perhaps any internship, was getting a favorable decision for the client. Shaking someone’s hand after a favorable outcome is an incredible feeling. In this case, it felt really good helping these children, almost all of whom had difficult, if not traumatic, childhoods. It felt good to be able to help these children have a shot at a better life. It felt like all those hours studying the law were finally being put to use in a meaningful way. Being able to help those who need help was the reason I applied to law school.

I want to reiterate how grateful I am for the generous support of Francis and Cindy Letro, through the University at Buffalo School of Law’s Summer Public Interest Funding & Fellowships Program, which is why I was able to do the public interest work I did this summer. I’d also like to thank John Cavicchio and Megan Walker for their invaluable mentorship and guidance, without which I’d likely still be trying to figure out how to use the copier.

Name: Harman Gill ’24

Fellowship: 2022 Francis M. Letro ’79 & Cindy Abbott Letro Fellowship

Placement: Jewish Family and Community Services

Location: Pittsburgh, PA

One important lesson I have learned from this fellowship: “The highlight of this internship, and perhaps any internship, was getting a favorable decision for the client. Shaking someone’s hand after a favorable outcome is an incredible feeling .”