October 27, 2009

Last week, Vanderbilt University Law School (VULS) students provided Kirk Johnson, the founder of The List Project (TLP), and Chris Nugent, Senior Counsel with the Community Services Team at Holland & Knight LLP, with several busy days of policy briefings, leadership discussions, and family visits in the Nashville area.

When Johnson and Nugent arrived at the airport on Thursday night, they were greeted by one of the first Iraqis resettled to Nashville by TLP. Their visit to Vanderbilt began in earnest on Friday morning, with a small meeting of TLP at Vanderbilt’s Steering Committee. Students shared their efforts to help resettled Iraqis obtain meaningful employment, safe housing, medical care, and English language classes; provided updates on the legal and policy research they have been performing; and offered ideas for furthering the objectives of The List Project both in Nashville and nationwide.

TLP leadership then met privately with Professor Mike Newton, formerly a senior advisor to the U.S. Ambassador-at-Large for War Crimes Issues at the U.S. Department of State. Drawing on his extensive on-the-ground experience in Iraq as a legal advisor to the Iraqi High Tribunal, Newton offered strategic insights into TLP’s policy work. He also helped cement the unique collaboration between TLP and VULS by securing a number of future legal internships for Vanderbilt law students.

The day continued with a thought-provoking talk by Johnson, Nugent, and an Iraqi refugee living in Nashville. Approximately 60 people attended the discussion, including local community leaders, several Iraqi families, and many interested, committed law students and undergraduates. Johnson stressed the urgency of resettling threatened Iraqis who aided the American government in Iraq. He also highlighted the need to hold the U.S. government accountable—and keep it informed—as the drawdown of U.S. troops from Iraq continues. Nugent, who manages Holland & Knight’s team of attorneys assisting TLP, discussed some of the challenges of the legal process for Iraqis on The List, who include translators, engineers, and other highly qualified professionals. Several Iraqis asked questions about their lives in the United States and how to continue moving forward in this country.

After sharing hummus and kabobs at lunch, members of TLP travelled with Johnson and Nugent to meet with individual Iraqi families, hear their stories, and share insights, thoughts, and hope with them. Over several cups of chai tea, each family explained their fears about their time in Iraq, their struggles after coming to the United States, and their joy at meeting members of TLP. Johnson listened closely and encouraged these Iraqis to keep moving forward despite the hard economic times many of them face. The day ended about 8:00 p.m. that evening with a hearty Iraqi dinner. Early the next morning, Nugent and Andrew Free, the head of TLP at Vanderbilt, ventured out to nearby Smyrna, Tennessee, to meet 16 more Iraqi members of the local TLP community.

Special thanks are in order to Samara Spence, Rachel Gore, Rachel Weisshaar, Shannon Fyfe, John Spragens, and all TLP@VU members for making this visit a success. All told, TLP@VU donated over $1,000 to make this trip a reality. It has already begun paying dividends.

TLP@VU aims to aid Iraqi refugees in Nashville during their transition to U.S. society. Vanderbilt law students involved with TLP include Arabic-speaking veterans of Operation Iraqi Freedom, students who have worked in the past with refugee groups, and others who are inspired and committed to helping Iraqi families. If you are interested in joining the Vanderbilt chapter and helping resettled Iraqis in Nashville, we encourage you to join Netroots, our online community, and contact Andrew Free to learn more about local opportunities.

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