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Amid the COVID-19 health crisis that has plagued the country, the Tahirih Justice Center continues to provide direct services to immigrant survivors of gender-based violence. While many immigration cases continue to be adjudicated, wait times for court hearings are at an all-time high and survivors are facing increased stress and fear about gaining status while unable to find work, access health care, receive housing subsidies, food stamps, or other public benefits, and provide for their families.

To address these immediate challenges and ensure survivors are not left to navigate these difficult situations alone, Tahirih’s legal team has transitioned to fully remote services, conducting screenings and assessments, providing counsel and advice, and offering full-scale legal representation through virtual channels. One of the dedicated staff members shepherding these new processes is Tahirih Greater DC’s Department of Justice (DOJ) Accredited Representative, Chelsea Naylor.

Since COVID, I’ve had clients leave me messages sobbing as they walk out of the last day of their job, others who aren’t eating each day, others who have to decide whether to risk going to the crowded ‘free food truck’ or keep their kids safe inside. Some are pregnant and scared, others think they might have coronavirus. It’s bad.

The unique challenges faced by immigrants during this global pandemic is no surprise to Chelsea, as she has spent most of her life passionately learning about and advocating for immigrant rights.

Growing up, I gained a unique perspective on the inequalities that immigrants face after witnessing how poorly some of my friends were treated by society. And, after I learned about the role the United States had in causing the situations that forced my friends’ families to migrate here, I started devoting the majority of my time to immigration advocacy organizations.

After college, Chelsea worked for Habitat for Humanity and the Latin American Legal Defense and Education Fund (LALDEF) where she led a mentoring program for 1st generation Latinx high school students to access and excel in higher education opportunities. After this work, Chelsea obtained her master’s degree in International Law and Human Rights from the United Nations University for Peace in Costa Rica while working with Nicaraguan migrants and helping revamp the University’s sexual assault policy.

Soon thereafter, when Chelsea found Tahirih, she felt she had come home.

I knew I wanted to harness everything I had learned and worked through into a legal career supporting immigrants who have faced injustices. Learning about Tahirih was the best – I felt like I was exactly where I should be.

As a DOJ Accredited Representative, Chelsea is authorized to practice immigration law at Tahirih. She works directly with clients who have experienced a broad range of injustice – human trafficking, child sex abuse, domestic violence. She ensures that her clients’ voices are front and center when petitioning the government for the immigration relief they deserve so they can stay in the U.S. to heal and prosper. While serving clients from all backgrounds, Chelsea has worked to expand and support Tahirih Greater DC’s LGBTQ client base, a project she feels strongly about.

Tahirih’s transgender clients especially have been through things that most people genuinely, truly, cannot even fathom. All of our clients are survivors, total badass fighters, but trans clients have even more layers of trauma, marginalization, and societal ostracization going against them, so it’s important to me that we can increase our representation in that field.

For Chelsea, getting to know her clients on a personal level goes beyond work – she has gained a whole new ‘family’ of some of the world’s most resilient people.

They’re human. I’m human. We end up being two humans, sitting together, working out a plan to get them what they deserve. And through that, a genuine bond grows.

For Chelsea, working with an administration that implements new policies and orders that impact those who have been abused is the hardest part of her job.

With this administration, the hardest part is seeing all the new rules come down that are making it harder for abused women and human trafficking survivors to gain relief and be safe.

Chelsea views Tahirih as a beacon of hope that will help make a difference in the fight for equality by advocating for and protecting the rights of survivors of violence to access safety and justice here in the U.S.

I am amazed at the transformation I see in clients. From their first meeting at Tahirih when they are still reeling from the abuse, to building the courage and comfort to share their full story, to having their voice heard before the government, to obtaining work authorization and status so they can have stability and independence, to seeing them come back with careers as nurses, restaurant owners, chefs – the physical and mental transformation is incredible.

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