WVU Law student becomes International Rescue Committee intern, talks refugee visas

By Angela Underwood | Aug 4, 2017

MORGANTOWN – West Virginia University Law student Katie Hutchison not only wants to change the world, she already has.

As an International Rescue Committee (IRC) intern, the third-year law student has by now worked out of the Baltimore-based office aiding asylees and refugees in attaining green cards. Hutchison told The West Virginia Record about her drive to help decipher documentation to immigrants.

Her work with IRC sparked two years ago when studying abroad, according to Hutchinson, the present president of the International Law Students Association. 

“Before studying abroad, I was never very interested in immigration. In Mexico, the lectures focused on migration for work, health, leisure and safety,” she said, adding WVU Professor James Friedberg’s asylum work fascinated her.

From there, Hutchison authored an assignment on sex trafficking victims and the special T and U visas offered them. 

“During my research, I found that one requirement of each is that the visa recipient ‘would suffer extreme hardship involving unusual and severe harm upon removal from the United States,'” she said, adding it is similar to the UN Refugee Convention principle of non-refoulement, which prevents States Parties from returning protected persons to the country persecuting them.  

“T Visa holders are also entitled to the same protections afforded to refugees under the US Immigration and Nationality Act. So, of course, I needed to discover what protection refugees are provided. This is when I found out about the IRC,” Hutchison said on how she ended up the prestigious internship offered in the name of former Dean Carl Selinger.

“I am told that he was not only a wonderful and dutiful dean, but also an excellent comparative law professor focused on Human Rights and Public Interest. Without the Selinger Fund, I would be unable to move to a new city for the summer, especially to intern with a nonprofit, so, it truly is a privilege that Mrs. Selinger saw the internship as an opportunity to continue Dean Selinger's legacy,” Hutchison said.

And she did, noting her childhood travels has helped her on the international level of the committee. A press release from West Virginia University states that Hutchison grew up in an Air Force family.

“When we were living in the UK, my mother bought me some children's books in Gaelic that I treasured for years to come and during our time in the UK, I acquired an English accent. I believe these books and the stark contrast between my speech and other American children upon returning to the US began my lifelong passion for foreign languages and culture,” she said.

There is one sect Hutchison has found herself helping more than others, though she has assisted asylees and refugees from Burma, Nepal, Bhutan, Sudan, Syria, Ethiopia, and more attain green cards and required travel documents. 

“However, my research this summer has focused on Eritrean access to the civil documents required for family reunification, like birth and marriage certificates. Many Eritrean family reunification applications are slowed or denied by USCIS because the Eritrean refugees do not have birth or marriage certificates to submit with their applications,” she explained.

“In Eritrea, along with many other lesser-developed countries, the government does not issue civil documents in rural areas or to certain religious minorities. While in Eritrea, the so-called ‘North Korea of Africa,’ citizens are subjected to one of the most restrictive authoritarian regimes in the world, including indefinite military service in which soldiers are frequently tortured for minor infractions,” Hutchison added.

And that is unacceptable to Hutchison, who has dedicated to changing the world regardless of the hard work and sacrifice. 

“I remain interested because these people have been subjected to some of the most unimaginable forms of discrimination and mistreatment. So, if there is anything in the world that I can do to improve even a small part of their lives, I want to do it,” she said.

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