Aliyah Donsky, CLINC Fellow with Catholic Charities New Orleans, describes her decision to work in the immigration field as the result of moral instinct and fruitful circumstance.
“I grew up in a very politically and socially minded household. My dad was a rabbi as I was growing up and my mom is a labor rights attorney,” she said. “So I had always been around immigration-related issues, particularly through the labor lens.”
However, it wasn’t until Donsky was in the middle of obtaining her undergraduate degree at Princeton University that she began to consider working with immigration issues.
“I [took] some time off between my sophomore and junior year. When I came back, I kind of changed tracks a little bit. Previously, I was involved in Israeli-Palestinian two-state solution work. [Then], through some sort of a weird convergence of different factors, I got pretty involved in the Latino studies program, and also in our university’s immigrant advocacy group… the Dream Team.”
It was the combination of phenomenal professors and close friends who were undocumented or strong allies to the immigrant community that helped Donsky chose a new path. At one point, she visited a detention center in New Jersey, where she met a young man whose experience also had a profound impact on her.
“He had just turned 18 before crossing the border, (just missing) the cut-off to be considered an unaccompanied minor,” Donsky explained. “Visible signs of the trauma he had experienced were so blatant. It was clear that whatever he had been through had damaged him so deeply and instead of getting the kind of services and care that he needed…he was stuck in this prison and stuck inside his own head and probably going to have to be deported and relive the whole thing all over again. That’s the moment where I went, ‘Okay, this needs to be what happens next full-time for me.’”
Donsky grew so passionate about the subject, she chose immigration as her senior thesis topic. It focused on a group of politically conservative, evangelical Christians in South Carolina who were mobilizing in support of immigration rights and sought to frame the cause as a religious issue.
Since joining Catholic Charities New Orleans, Donsky has been instrumental in helping conduct outreach and education events integral to the CLINIC Fellows’ goals. She has also found herself in the midst of a transition period within the organization’s immigration program, and has found it exciting to help shape the direction of the program.
“There’s never a moment when I ask whether doing this kind of immigration work is the right thing to do -- it’s just clear to me. It involves people’s real lives in a very tangible way,” she said. “It is what I can do something about right now.”
The CLINIC Fellows program aims to increase the reach of immigration legal services and public education in underserved areas by funding additional full-time legal representatives that work with select CLINIC affiliates. Currently it targets eight states in the Southeast, in response to the heightened need for services in that region. For more information, visit https://cliniclegal.org/clinicfellows.