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William & Mary's Immigration Clinic helps Afghan refugees seeking a new start

Afghan refugees
Posted at 7:41 AM, Oct 22, 2021
and last updated 2021-10-22 07:41:59-04

WILLIAMSBURG, Va. - When tens of thousands packed flights to flee Afghanistan and Taliban rule, Stacy Kern-Scheerer jumped into action.

She and colleague Nicole Alanko drove from the College of William & Mary to Fort Lee near Petersburg, where Afghan refugees would soon find themselves entering into a complicated process.

"Whether that be to help with paperwork or to give presentations about, 'Okay, here's what to expect now, as you go through the immigration process,'" said Kern-Scheerer, a Law professor at William & Mary, who also serves as Director of the Law School's Immigration Clinic.

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Nicole Alanko (L) and Stacy Kern-Scheerer (R) arrived at Fort Lee in August to help Afghan refugees trying to resettle.

That was largely two months ago.

Now, Kern-Scheerer and Law students who work at the Immigration Clinic, are helping refugees take their next steps.

It starts with applying for humanitarian parole, which Kern-Scheerer says means refugees have two years to figure out what they want to do permanently.

Then there are the people still stuck in Afghanistan, many of whom are family members of those who already made it to the U.S. The Immigration Clinic is helping them apply for parole as well, but it's complicated.

“There are thousands and thousands and thousands of applications," Kern-Scheerer tells News 3. "Then, the other difficulty is the individuals have to find a way out of Afghanistan and that’s something that, unfortunately, we are not able to help with."

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Stacy Kern-Scheerer, Director of the Immigration Clinic at William & Mary Law School, speaks to News 3 about efforts to help Afghan refugees seeking asylum in the U.S.

But should they be able to get to the United States, Kern-Scheerer says the goal is to have immigration help for them.

Not only is it important work, she says, it's incredibly emotional for all involved.

“You are an advocate for somebody who has been through experiences that frankly I can’t imagine and in many instances the students can’t either," she said. "We’re doing what we can with what we have in order to help those who would not have access to representation otherwise.”

Given that the legal system is already complicated enough for people who speak English, language barriers and translation have been another challenge.

Kern-Scheerer says she would be grateful for anyone who speaks Dari or Pashto, the two most commonly spoken languages in Afghanistan, to come forward and help.

Others wishing to help, she says, can donate to organizations that resettle refugees like Catholic Charities and Hampton Roads Refugee Relief.