Fellow Story

Fellow spotlight: Assata Davis

Meet Assata Davis, a first year Community Fellow at UnLocal, a community-based non-profit organization that provides direct immigration legal representation and community education to New York City’s undocumented immigrant communities. As a Community Fellow, Assata is responsible for her own caseload under the supervision of an attorney. She meets with low- income clients, conducts legal screenings, and completes applications for a broad range of immigration benefits. She will soon become a Department of Justice accredited representative, allowing her to represent clients before the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services. In her first few months as a Community Fellow, Assata shares her experiences.

Many of Assata’s clients are asylees, asylum seekers, and DACA or SIJS recipients. As part of her Fellowship, she provides legal assistance by completing and filing applications for work permits, advance parole travel documents, DACA renewals, and green cards. Her clients come from South and Central America, the Caribbean, and eastern Europe. Many of her clients identify as queer.

“I have observed complex cases I may otherwise never have had the opportunity to learn from as someone who is not yet a law student,” Assata said about the Fellowship.

Assata notes that whenever she finishes a call with one of her clients, there is always a sense of buoyancy from being able to help people and connect with someone, even if she doesn’t immediately have all the answers. All of this exchange and connection is somehow able to occur under masks and through computer screens in a way that she never would have imagined possible before the pandemic.

Assata is humbled by the resiliency of her clients and by how families lean on each other to navigate an unyielding and opaque immigration system. She sees it in the kids that wave playfully at her while they spend the day in one of UnLocal’s meeting rooms as their parent meets virtually with a judge. Spouses hold tiny children and pacify them for hours while their partners testify over Webex in the conference room next door. Clients who have undergone severe traumas find UnLocal’s office a space where they are free to joke with staff, voice their opinion on their case, and share food. Assata has seen first-hand the legal office transform into a space for collective healing and decolonized thinking, a community night market, and an ESL classroom.

“I am reminded again and again that advocacy work does not have to be linear and celebrates creativity in all its forms,” Assata said. “My time as a Community Fellow has shown me that despite the weight and all the darkness that can be found behind our clients’ stories, there is so much joy to be had as well.”

Assata is encouraged to self-advocate and work from home whenever she needs to so that she can continue to show up and connect with her clients and give her best as their representative. Assata noted that she loves that the work-life balance in her Fellowship is not just a goal, it is something that is constantly practiced by other staff. She is proud of how much she is learning during her time as an IJC Fellow and how much she is coming to understand about our nation’s immigration system and the communities who navigate it.

Reflecting on her Fellowship so far, Assata said: “I am becoming a stronger immigrant rights advocate and know that I will be able to contribute powerfully to this work after my time as a Community Fellow comes to an end.”

Do you want to become a Community Fellow like Assata? Our Class of 2022 Community Fellowship Application is now open! You can find out more about the fellowship and the application here. Applications are due May 22.