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Alfred University Alumna Priya Gandhi Fighting Refugee Ban at JFK

Priya Gandhi

Priya Gandhi

“I’ve never felt anything but safe in America,” says Alfred University alumna Priya Gandhi. “That’s what made me want to go and be a part of this.”

Since Sunday, Jan. 29, Gandhi, a 2007 graduate of Alfred University, has been spending most of her evenings – and will be working through this weekend – at JFK International Airport, offering free legal assistance to individuals whose entry into the United States has been barred by President Trump’s Executive Order of Jan. 27.

A 2012 graduate of New York Law School, she practices law as in-house counsel with a New York City insurance company (She prefers not to identify the company). She lives in lower Manhattan, and the subway ride to JFK takes 90 minutes. Last Sunday morning, however, as she watched the news from Terminal 4, where dozens of volunteer lawyers were helping new arrivals cope with the ramifications of the White House order, she grabbed her laptop and headed for the action.

“It’s been difficult,” she says. “These people have legal visas. … A lot of them are here on student visas and employment visas or a legal permanent residence. Or they’re here for medical treatment, or they’re visiting with family… They’ve already been vetted; we can’t make that clear enough. They’re coming into America legally.”

In response to the executive order, Gandhi and dozens of other lawyers have been filing writs of Habeas Corpus and temporary restraining orders to stop U.S. Customs and Immigration officials from returning affected individuals to their points of origin. The work has been exhausting but invigorating, she says.

“I haven’t had a lot of sleep at all. “But I was never involved in immigration law before this, and it’s definitely piqued my interest.”

While an undergraduate at Alfred University, Gandhi majored in Psychology and has fond memories of studying with Psychology Professor Gordon Atlas and Danielle Gagne. Since her mother and father had lived in Germany before immigrating to the U.S., she also studied the language with Professor of German Sandra Singer. She loved the classes and even remains “friends” with her former professors on Facebook.

“At Alfred, you weren’t just another number,” she says, “you’re an actual face with a name.”

Regarding the legal pushback against Trump’s executive order, Gandhi says she and her colleagues “are hoping there will be a light at the end of the tunnel.” The legal issue, she says, will boil down to whether or not the order is constitutional.

Until that clarification occurs, she expects to keep riding the subway from downtown Manhattan to JFK International. The work is exhausting, but it has its professional – and emotional – advantages. “You can see the difference you’re making in peoples’ lives,” she says. “They’re us, and we’re them.”


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