New York University's independent student newspaper, established in 1973.

Washington Square News

New York University's independent student newspaper, established in 1973.

Washington Square News

New York University's independent student newspaper, established in 1973.

Washington Square News

NYU leading initiative for migrants seeking asylum

Students, faculty and staff at the university will be able to help migrants file for asylum in the U.S. immigration system amid the city’s crisis.
Yezen Saadah
New York City has housed migrants in several locations including The Roosevelt Hotel located on East 45th St between Vanderbilt Avenue and Madison Avenue. (Yezen Saadah for WSN)

NYU is leading a handful of New York City higher education institutions in helping migrants navigate the often complex process of seeking asylum in the United States, as the city continues to find new ways to accommodate its growing population of asylum seekers. 

Students will be able to gain internship credit for their volunteer work under the initiative, which was created in partnership with the city’s Asylum Application Help Center. The center has helped more than a thousand migrants begin the asylum process in the United States, and was created to help migrants file for asylum amid the city’s crisis. 

The application for receiving asylum in the United States is a little over 11 pages long, and includes questions about criminal history, why applicants are fearful of returning to their home country and family information. Upon approval of a completed application, migrants can legally reside and work in the United States, but the process is slow due to the volume of cases in U.S. immigration courts.

The immigration court system is currently flooded with requests for asylum, with a backlog of more than 800,000 asylum-seeking cases. Current wait times for hearings are over four years, according to a January 2023 Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse report.

Despite the delays, the new initiative will be helpful in initiating the immigration process for many asylum seekers. The project will provide migrants with assistance from student volunteers, immigration lawyers and translators.

The City University of New York, Columbia University and New York Law School are also participating in the initiative, with some providing course or internship credit for students. The participating institutions will sponsor three full days of work at the center over the coming semester.

In a written statement to WSN, Interim Provost Georgina Dopico said that some NYU schools and departments may allow students to count their volunteer work, which can include more than assisting asylum seekers with applications, as internship credit.

“In addition to their service at the help center, students participating in these internships might, for example, study recent trends in immigration, compose weekly journal entries about their experiences at the help center and craft longer research projects or reflection pieces,” Dopico said. “These kinds of credit-bearing courses require significant academic work in conjunction with service at sites such as the Asylum Application Help Center.”

Besides leading the initiative, NYU will provide free or low-cost dental care to children of asylum seekers at the university’s College of Dentistry, according to university spokesperson John Beckman. Dopico said that NYU will also be offering public programming, such as panels and lectures, related to immigration and the current crisis.

Nearly 100,000 migrants have arrived in New York City since spring 2022, when the busing of migrants from cities across Texas to cities on the East Coast began. To help mitigate the increase in its migrant population, the city has taken to housing individuals in Department of Homeless Services shelters, the Roosevelt Hotel in Manhattan and public park recreation centers. Both public school gymnasiums and an unused hangar at John F. Kennedy International Airport have also been suggested as housing locations for asylum seekers. 

While university residence halls were previously also being considered to house migrants, Beckman said this would not be possible due to the high volume of housing applicants at the university. 

“We have more requests for housing within our own community than we are able to fill,” Beckman said in a statement. “We’re deeply sympathetic to the asylum seekers’ situation, but we don’t have the capacity to offer housing.”

Spyros Orfanos, director of the postdoctoral clinic at NYU’s Postdoctoral Program in Psychotherapy and Psychoanalysis and founder of the Immigration and Human Rights Work Group, said that New York City migrants have yet to be referred to his organization. 

Orfanos’ initiative, which worked with migrants under the Trump administration’s immigration policies, trains volunteers to conduct psychological evaluations for those facing deportation or seeking asylum. He said that some of the main challenges when working with asylum seekers involve language barriers, along with providing basic goods and services like food and housing.

“Some of the research we worked on documented the family separations that were going on in the U.S.-Mexico border rose to the level of torture — according to international standards,” Orfanos said. “For a lot of people, migration and the highly stressful, uncertain and sometimes even violent conditions become traumatizing for people.”

Migrants can experience physical and mental health issues due to the stress of the conditions they face, according to Orfanos. He said that although the stress might not initially seem to have an impact, it can cause anxiety, depression or autoimmune diseases over time. 

“So many of them migrated thinking life would be much easier here, but have to experience conditions that are bad and meager sometimes. They are not necessarily met with open arms,” Orfanos said. “That Statue of Liberty motto ‘Give me your tired, your poor…’ If it ever was true, it is certainly not true now.” 

Contact Adrianna Nehme at [email protected].

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About the Contributors
Adrianna Nehme, News Editor
Adrianna Nehme is a sophomore still trying to decide what to major in. Originally from a small town in Indiana, she moved to Chicago, Illinois for high school — where she was also the news editor for the school paper! She loves experiencing music live at concerts, seeking restaurants to try in the city and reading fiction novels — her all-time favorite is "The Cider House Rules" by John Irving. Check out her latest adventures on Instagram @adrianna.nehme.
Yezen Saadah, Deputy Managing Editor
Yezen Saadah is a sophomore studying cinema studies, journalism and Middle Eastern studies. He's a lover of cinema, history, art and literature, and he enjoys writing about pretty much anything. If he isn't in the newsroom or at the movies, he's probably just trying to enjoy his day off. Contact him on Instagram @yezen.saadah, Twitter @yezen_saadah and — most importantly — Letterboxd @Yezen, or just send tips to [email protected].

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