Brent Finnell and the Iraqi Refugee Assistance Project (IRAP) - Charlotte School of Law Chapter

96,838 supporters

Individual Legal Representation for Refugees

IRAP is the first organization to provide comprehensive legal representation to individual refugees seeking resettlement. IRAP has successfully resettled more than 1000 refugees in life or death situations, including Iraqis at risk for their work as interpreters with the U.S. military, children with medical emergencies, women who are survivors of domestic and sexual violence and survivors of torture. IRAP is currently working on the cases of more than 300 families.

IRAP has chapters at 23 law schools in the U.S. and the Middle East. Chapters are student-initiated and directed. Law students work in pairs, under the supervision of pro bono attorneys from private firms. They prepare visa applications, submit appeals, and advocate and empower our clients to successfully negotiate the resettlement process. Until September 2010, IRAP was entirely run by volunteer law student directors. Now with a full team dedicated to IRAP in addition to our extensive network of volunteers, we hope to expand the number of cases we can tackle and to more aggressively advocate for the rights of Iraqi refugees.

Fact-Finding and Policy Advocacy

Because IRAP handles so many individual cases, our law students and lawyers have a unique insight into refugee processing. We utilize the knowledge gained from our individual cases to advocate for specific legal reforms to systems of refugee and Special Immigrant Visa processing in the United States. Students from different chapters also take on specific fact-finding projects, traveling to the Middle East and doing research in the US, including:

--Protection for Iraqi and Afghan allies who risked their lives working as interpreters for the U.S. military in Iraq and Afghanistan.

--Special categories and protection for vulnerable groups of refugees, including LGBT refugees and women at risk of domestic violence or sexual trafficking.

--Improvements to the refugee resettlement process, including allow refugees access to counsel and ensuring transparent appeals, to ensure that every refugee has is treated fairly and humanely, with respect for their basic human rights.

Refugee Roadmap

Refugee Roadmap assists Iraqi refugees in the United States by answering their questions about life in America and highlighting their accomplishments so that other refugees can benefit from their experience. The project is sustained by volunteers from different countries and different faiths. Volunteers include students, retirees, professionals, Iraq war veterans and previously resettled refugees. They share the experience of living in the US and a desire to help newly arrived Iraqi refugees. Volunteers answer questions and participate in a team effort to provide Iraqi refugees with a roadmap for navigating life in America.

Overseas Clinical Legal Education to Ensure Refugee Rights

IRAP partners with the University of Jordan in Amman on the first clinical legal education program in the Kingdom of Jordan. IRAP students from Yale Law School travel to Jordan twice a year to conduct trainings with Jordanian law students. Law students from both countries then work together to coordinate comprehensive legal advocacy on behalf of IRAP clients.

I would also like to thank my Co-Director Desiree Chihade, and all of the other law students, professors, and friends who have helped support the Charlotte School of Law Chapter.

Started 1 petition

Petitioning Congress

Congress: Extend lifesaving legislation for interpreters who helped US troops in Iraq

Having served in Iraq, I know how many Iraqis have given back to assist US troops -- now it’s time for us to help them and we need Congress to help. While serving in Baghdad in 2009-2010 during my deployment with the North Carolina National Guard, I got to know Mr. Z. He served as my Joint Security Station's (JSS) handyman and foreman of all the work projects going on at our small company sized outpost. Mr. Z fixed countless appliances, repaired and built showers, delivered beds and refrigerators for water, replaced frayed electrical lines which had caused minor injuries one soldier, coordinated the hiring of garbage men, mechanics, crane operators for the removal of barrier walls in the local neighborhoods, and helped to recover two stolen generators. Mr. Z always came to work with a smile on his face, delivered presents and food for the soldiers, and even surprised us with the gift of a Christmas tree to remind us of home.  At that time I was only a specialist Infantry soldier and it wasn't until after I returned to the states, completed my undergrad degree, enrolled in law school, and joined the Iraqi Refugee Assistance Project (IRAP) that I learned of Mr. Z's other sacrifices. Before I arrived in Iraq, Mr. Z had served as a voluntary translator and intelligence asset, risked his life conducting surveillance of insurgent groups, and maintained a handful of small bases and outposts around Baghdad. Mr. Z and his family (wife, son, daughter) are still in hiding in Iraq and are terrified of what may happen. Since the Iraq War began, the family has received death threats and been placed on a "hit-list.” Their home was invaded by members of the Mahdi Army, it was looted, and then burnt down as punishment for his assistance to the US military. One of the major threats Mr. Z has faced is the potential for kidnapping after a bounty was placed for his capture by local criminal and paramilitary forces which the government has be unable and unwilling to stop.  Through a program established as part of the Refugee Crisis in Iraq Act in 2007, the thousands of Iraqi nationals like Mr. Z who interpret and work for US troops are eligible to apply for special visas to escape danger in their country. (Section 1244 of Public Law 110-181, amended by Public Law 110-242). A similar program exists for interpreters from Afghanistan. Since October 2010, Mr. Z had been trying to get approval for a visa, but because he was paid in cash as our handyman and foreman and interpreted voluntarily, it had been difficult to establish his employment without a written contract and Mr. Z had almost given up. However, IRAP was able to help and he was finally granted COM approval in May 2013. His Special Immigrant Visa resettlement application is now pending with the National Visa Center.  According to the U.S. State Department, only about 22% of the visas avalible to Iraqis under the SIV program have been distributed. Both the US Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) and US Embassy in Iraq announced, "No matter what stage of the process you are in, all selected and eligible applicants must obtain their visa by [11:59 p.m. EDT on] September 30, 2013." Unless Congress extends the SIV program for Iraqis, Mr. Z and thousands of applicants who have fought for years to slowly advance through lengthy visa process will be immediately rejected. This expiration also includes all spouses and unmarried children accompanying or following to join the applicant. The visa program for interpreters who provide vital services for the US military saves lives, but it’s due to expire on September 30, 2013. The people like Mr. Z who provide critical services and risk their lives to help us need and deserve this program to protect them from the dangers they face for assisting us. Please join me in calling on Congress to extend the Refugee Crisis in Iraq Act before it’s too late for thousands like Mr. Z. To learn more information about IRAP, please visit Also please note that some of our clients are LGBT cases, widows, orphaned children, and some are refugees that did not have a connection to the US military (these however come under a different visa program), but IRAP still tries to help as many as we can to resettle!   Thank you, Brent Finnell Charlotte School of Law J.D. Candidate 2014

Brent Finnell and the Iraqi Refugee Assistance Project (IRAP) - Charlotte School of Law Chapter
96,838 supporters