"On the Ground" with Asylum-Seekers

Sabrineh Ardalan
Sabrineh ArdalanPhotograph by Jessica Scranton

Sabrineh Ardalan’s earliest memories, growing up in Washington, D.C., include writing and distributing pro-democracy newsletters with her family. Her Iranian parents had sought asylum in the United States in the early 1980s, after the Iranian Revolution. At the dinner table, politics and world events were constant topics: “I always knew I wanted to do human-rights work.” She chose law school in order to be “an advocate on the ground,” and is now a clinical professor of law who directs Harvard’s Immigration and Refugee Clinical Program—the same program where she worked as a student, before earning her J.D. in 2002. Then, Ardalan’s principal client was a Ugandan man fleeing political persecution, who was eventually granted asylum. In the years since 2008 (when she returned to the clinic as a teaching fellow), she’s represented asylum-seekers whose journeys reflect world crises, from east Africa, Syria, and Afghanistan, to Central America. Her “pandemic hobby” is visiting goat farms and taking nature walks with her three-year-old, “just to not think about the world for a bit.” But in March, as the war in Ukraine unfolded, Ardalan was watching carefully, weighing how to help (the Harvard Representation Initiative, a part of the clinical program that provides immigration-related legal services to University community members, had already begun supporting those affected). “It’s heartwarming to see the public support for Ukrainian refugees,” she said, “and at the same time, I continue to be concerned about refugees from other countries being turned away.” Recent years have seen increasing interest in the clinic’s work—especially during the Trump administration, she says, whose policies prompted an “outpouring” of students eager to work on immigration issues. Those years felt like “a mad dash,” she says, “but I think what I’m realizing now is, it’s really a marathon.”

Read more articles by Lydialyle Gibson

You might also like

“Edifying and Beautiful”

Botanical illustrations on display at Harvard’s rare book library

Sarah Ganz Blythe New Art Museums Director

Assumes Harvard post in August

Taking Climate Action at Harvard

Focusing on prime polluting industries, plus politics and policy

Most popular

The Food-Climate Conundrum

A Harvard Radcliffe Institute symposium tackles sustainable food systems in a changing climate.

“The Ingenuity of an Architect”

Kimberly Dowdell influences her profession—and the built environment.

Parks for Tomorrow

Bas Smets harnesses nature to cool cities.

More to explore

Architect Kimberly Dowdell is Changing Her Profession

Kimberly Dowdell influences her profession—and the built environment.

Harvard Professor on Printmaking

An art historian analyzes an overlooked medium.

Dream Renovations to Harvard Yard Libraries

An ambitious plan for the next century of learning