Persecution: a word I thought I knew the meaning of before this week. The dictionary definition of persecution is "hostility and ill-treatment, especially because of race or political or religious beliefs". Before starting my internship at GAIN this week, I believed this easy, one-line definition of persecution was an adequate representation of what it truly meant to be persecuted. On day one, that belief shattered.
My first thoughts of my time at GAIN so far have mostly been of my own ignorance and, to be quite honest, stupidity. I've thought to myself "How have I been so naive and sheltered from the reality of the world around me?" On the first day in the office, we met with an TPS applicant from Afghanistan. TPS stands for Temporary Protected Status, a legal status that affords some protection to applicants and allows them to work in the U.S. The Attorney General recently extended TPS protection for Afghan nationals due to the crisis from Taliban rule. Because of the current situation in Afghanistan, most of our clients at the moment are Afghan.
The meeting consisted of our office paralegal assisting the applicant with his TPS application. The applicant answered a number of questions while his friend and also translator assisted him. During the meeting, I watched the applicant. I listened to him answer the questions. He was kind and his friend asked myself and my fellow intern about our law school experience. After we finished the forms and got all of the required signatures, we said good-bye to the applicant and his friend. I couldn't count how many times both of them expressed their thanks to our paralegal as well as to myself and the other intern, even though we made no helpful contributions to the process.
Thinking about this meeting, I'm astounded at how calmly and matter-of-factly the applicant answered questions about horrific events that would leave absolutely anyone severely traumatized. But, he was peaceful and even made jokes throughout the meeting. He was comfortable talking about his persecution because, for him, that was an aspect of his daily life. He was accustomed to living with his fear and terror. He was able to talk about his life in Afghanistan because, for now, he was safe. Sharing his story made it possible for him to remain safe by achieving protection. For him, this meeting meant hope. Because of that hope, reliving his terror was worth it.
You see, it's easy for an outsider to put this experience, living with persecution, into words. But looking into the eyes of a person who has actually gone through persecution, you realize that no combination of words exists to capture the torment experienced by this person. It is easy to become hopeless with this realization. For the majority of my day, I am reading affidavits describing in detail the horrors faced by asylum applicants or I am researching an issue facing applicants that yields no positive results for our clients. But, I will think of the gratitude and the hope and the laughs on the face of that first client I met. I will remember that we are doing everything we can to fight for these clients so that they will never again be subject to the persecution they have become so used to living with. And that will be enough to continue the fight.