Pomona College Magazine
Volume 41. No. 2.
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Inspirational Alumna / Emily Arnold-Fernandez ’99

Advocate for the Dispossessed

Fresh off her first year at Georgetown Law School, Emily Arnold-Fernandez ’99 did a summer internship in Cairo working as a legal advocate for refugees. The young woman saw refugees working feverishly to better their lives. Her first client—a Liberian youth whose parents disappeared during fighting and civil unrest in his country—now lives in Connecticut thanks largely to the research and advocacy Arnold-Fernandez provided on his case.

The Cairo experience had a dramatic impact on her and served as a catalyst for the work she does today: Arnold-Fernandez heads up a nonprofit organization that aims to provide free legal aid to the world’s most embattled refugees as they struggle for legal rights in the countries to which they flee.

Her ambitious foray into the field of refugee rights shares a pattern with her other post-Pomona jobs: They all mark a desire to fight for the abused and disadvantaged. Because of her outstanding public service, Pomona has chosen Arnold-Fernandez to receive the Inspirational Young Alumni Award for 2005–06.

“One of the really powerful things about being at Pomona was that I had so many professors who believed in me, who believed I could do amazing things,” says the San Francisco resident, adding that their faith in her gave her confidence in herself.

While at Pomona, Arnold-Fernandez, who majored in philosophy and music, volunteered once a week at a shelter for women who were victims of domestic violence. After graduation, she worked for a Los Angeles nonprofit that works to combat teen-dating violence, and in the wake of earning her law degree from Georgetown she litigated sexual discrimination and sexual harassment claims on behalf of women.

Asylum Access, the refugee-rights group, was founded by Arnold-Fernandez and other refugee advocates about a year ago and incorporated last September. The San Francisco-based nonprofit assists refugees in the global south, primarily Africa, Asia and Latin America as they prepare for asylum proceedings and during the actual proceedings themselves. Without such help, these people are in nearly impossible situations, Arnold-Fernandez notes. “When refugees flee to another country, they often have no travel papers—and they certainly don’t have a visa,” she says. “They’re usually with no money and only have whatever clothes they are (carrying) with them.”

“I’m so excited about what can be accomplished with Asylum Access,” she adds. “I feel like everything I’ve done before has been training for what I’m trying to do with this organization.”
For more information, visit the Asylum Access Web site at www.asylumaccess.org or e-mail info@asylumaccess.org.
—Paul Sterman ’84
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