In 2016, Swapna Reddy served as an Equal Justice Works Fellow at Urban Justice Center. Now, Swapna is expanding her organization, Asylum Seeker Advocacy Project, through a prestigious Echoing Green Fellowship.
What inspired you to pursue your respective issue area?
SR: I have been interested in immigration since I was a child, as I watched my parents interact with the U.S. immigration system, saw my brothers move to and from India, and helped our family navigate the English language and U.S. cultural norms. But I wasn’t involved in my current line of work — providing remote assistance to detained and formerly detained asylum seekers — until I met a Honduran woman and organizer who was forced to go to trial while detained with her 7-year-old son. I worked on a team to represent her, and after she won her case, she urged us to find a way to represent other families like hers.
Please briefly describe the trajectory that has led you to this newest fellowship project.
SR: As a student in law school, I worked with three others — Conchita Cruz, Dorothy Tegeler, and Liz Willis — to coordinate volunteers to prevent the wrongful detention and deportation of asylum-seeking families in the United States. By the end of law school, hundreds of asylum-seeking women and children had won their cases with our volunteers’ support.
How do you think this fellowship will build upon your work as an Equal Justice Works Fellow? / How do you think your experience as an Equal Justice Works Fellow will inform this new endeavor?
SR: Equal Justice Works provided me with an incredible opportunity to turn my volunteer efforts into full-time work. As an Equal Justice Works Emerson fellow, I was able to establish ASAP (the Asylum Seeker Advocacy Project) at the Urban Justice Center and expand our efforts to provide legal assistance to refugee families in 4 detention centers and 26 states. ASAP has also connected more than 1800 otherwise isolated refugee mothers in an online community, where members can share stories and strategies, ask questions of legal experts, and build community power.
What inspired you to pursue a second fellowship opportunity?
SR: Echoing Green provides seed funding and professional development for founders of early-stage organizations seeking to scale their impact. Through Echoing Green, I hope to ensure that the progress I’ve made as an Equal Justice Works Emerson fellow continues after my fellowship concludes. And, with Echoing Green’s general operating support, I will also be able to expand ASAP’s staff so we can assist a greater number of families in the short term.
What is your goal for this project?
SR: ASAP’s ultimate goal is to end the wrongful detention and deportation of asylum seekers in the United States. Though this goal may sound lofty, I believe it is possible if asylum seekers are provided the resources and support they need to chart our path forward.