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Steven Sacco '13 has an interest in immigration and asylum law that stems from his belief that the overwhelming responsibility of every attorney and law student is to advocate for those who cannot advocate for themselves.
"This belief drives my broader commitment of protecting human rights generally, and in becoming an effective advocate of those rights," he explained.
Late last month, Sacco and several other Albany Law School students participated in a training session with Becca Heller, a founder of the Iraqi Refugee Assistance Project (IRAP), a Manhattan-based group that is facilitating chapters at law schools across the country.
“I believe we in the United States have a unique ethical obligation to these families who were driven from their homes from the chaos that followed the very war funded by our tax dollars,” Sacco said.
IRAP matches law students with practicing attorneys to provide legal assistance to Iraqis who are living abroad as refugees, helping these clients rejoin their families or seek asylum. Often the refugees, without legal assistance, are prevented from working, being educated, and receiving medical care and public benefits.
"Refugee law doesn't really exist," said Heller during the training on Sept. 29. "We're trying to hammer it together from other fields of law."
Haller also said that Albany Law School's IRAP chapter was one of 18 such groups nationwide, and that the organization is expanding rapidly.
Sacco and his classmates will soon being working with attorneys to represent the underserved Iraqi community. Their effort is one of several initiatives of the Albany Law School's Pro Bono Program, through which more than 300 students will help thousands of clients such as rural seniors and low-income tax payers.
Helping Iraqi refugees is but one of Sacco's aspirations.
"I am studying to earn my master's degree in social work in addition to my J.D. in a four-year joint degree program with the University at Albany School of Social Welfare," he said. "I am interested in practicing immigration law after school and, particularly, in representing clients seeking family unity and asylum from the dangers and injustices of forced migration, xenophobia and persecution."