Opportunities at WVU Law sparked Katie Hutchison’s interest in the plight of refugees and ultimately led her to a prestigious legal internship at the International Rescue Committee (IRC) in Baltimore, Maryland.
“Working with the IRC is helping me engage with cultures and understand humanitarian crises that were never on my radar before,” said Hutchison, a rising 3L.
Hutchison’s interest in refugee law began two summers ago when she attended a lecture at the University of Guanajuato in Mexico as part of the college’s study abroad program.
She returned to WVU Law and immersed herself in classes on international law, refugee and asylum law, and immigration law. Outside the classroom, Hutchison took advantage of an opportunity to work with Professor James Friedberg to conduct research on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
Friedberg, the Hale J. and Roscoe P. Posten Professor of Law, is a renowned expert on immigration and human rights law. He founded the college’s Immigration Law Clinic in 1996.
“I learned so much through my work with Professor Friedberg. He helped me to better understand the Refugee Convention in International Law, while his Refugee and Asylum Law class brought the issues back home to domestic U.S. law,” said Hutchison
Hutchison was also active with the Jessup International Moot Court Team — she is 2017-18 co-captain — and the International Law Students Association (ILSA) — she is the 2017-18 president.
Last fall, she attended the ILSA’s International Law Weekend in New York City. While there, Hutchison heard lectures on past and current refugee crises and the work being done by the international community in Syria.
She says that under the United Nations’ Refugee Convention, a person qualifies as a refugee if they have a well-founded fear of persecution based on race, religion, national origin, political opinion, or membership in a particular social group and cannot trust their own country to provide them with protection.
That fundamental definition is why helping refugees is so important to her, according to Hutchison.
“These people have been subjected to some of the most unimaginable forms of discrimination and mistreatment,” she explained. “So of course, if there is anything in the world that I can do to improve even a small part of their lives, I want to do it.”
So, when she learned about the IRC, Hutchison familiarized herself with its work on immigration and asylum issues.
Then, she landed an Immigration Intern position in the IRC’s Baltimore office to help refugees and asylees apply for Permanent Residency (Green Cards).
Hutchison also works on Family Reunification and Travel Document applications. She has focused on the plight of Eritrean refugees and their access to the documents required for these applications.
The United Nations characterizes Eritrea as a country ruled by fear where citizens face arbitrary arrest, extrajudicial executions, forced disappearances and torture. Five thousand Eritreans flee the country each month.
A former Italian colony, Eritrea gained independence from Ethiopia in 1991 following a 30-year war.
“Often Eritrean refugees born around 1990 don't understand why their documents say they were born in Ethiopia, and they get insulted and frustrated that the U.S. government did not recognize Eritrean sovereignty until April 1993,” Hutchison explains. “Eritreans fought for independence from Ethiopia and to hear that you have to carry around documents identifying you with your life-long enemy devastates many refugees.”
As part of her internship, Hutchison also follows up with former IRC clients to monitor their advancement through the immigration system. She appreciates the opportunity to make a positive impact on her clients’ lives.
“A client who just received his Green Card in the mail thanked me and the United States government with an emphatic chorus of ‘Thank You’s and ‘God Blesses for helping him get to this point,” she said. “It is incredibly gratifying to know that I have had a hand in making someone feel that way, as well.”
Hutchison grew up in an Air Force family, including several years in the Britain. She graduated from West Virginia University in 2015 with a BA in International Studies and German Language with a minor in Russian.
Hutchison’s internship at the IRC is supported by WVU Law’s Selinger Fund for Public Interest and Human Rights. The late Carl Selinger was Dean of the College of Law from 1982-89.
“I would like to express my deepest gratitude to Mrs. Selinger for her generosity in choosing me as this year’s recipient and helping me make this internship a reality,” Hutchison said.