Each year, HRI celebrates the law firms, institutions, and individuals that help people fleeing violence find safety in Dallas by honoring them for their contributions to HRI’s clients, who are immigrant survivors of human rights abuses from across the world. This honor is called the Angel of Freedom Award.
Recently, HRI had a chat with Dr. Naomi Tabak, Director of the SMU Psychology Clinic about the program’s involvement with HRI.
How did you first hear about HRI?
I first learned about HRI from one of our doctoral students in clinical psychology, Rose Ashraf. As part of her doctoral coursework, Rose had completed a psychological evaluation for an HRI client, and approached me as the director of the training clinic to see if we could establish a more formal collaboration. Our first evaluation was scheduled for November 9, 2016, the day after the 2016 election was decided. We have been honored to continue our collaboration over the past four years, through the many immigration policy changes.
What is your driving force in volunteering with our agency?
The SMU Psychology Clinic is the first clinical setting in which our doctoral students begin their professional development. Volunteering with HRI has provided an opportunity to apply our profession’s ethical principles, which include justice and respect for people’s rights and dignity, during the earliest stages of training. Our students consistently report that it is one of the more personally fulfilling and inspiring aspects of training, and we look forward to continuing this collaboration.
Please briefly share an ‘aha moment’ (a moment of discovery or insight) that stood out to you during your time with HRI.
It was about two and a half years before we received any updates on the clients we had evaluated. I remember getting an email informing us that one of our clients had been granted a green card, and it was such a concrete acknowledgment of the work we had put in for this person. While the wait felt long for us, we can only imagine how long it felt for the client, and how long it feels for all the clients who are waiting in this state of uncertainty and fear. We truly hope our contribution continues to lead to this positive outcome for the clients we serve.
What is something you have learned from your experience working with HRI?
Our whole team has learned from the passion and dedication of the incredible lawyers and social services staff at HRI. They have been patient and helpful collaborators through our evaluations, and have presented in our doctoral program seminar on several occasions. Our students love having visitors from HRI to help us understand the legal implications of the policy changes we hear about in the news, how they affect real lives, and how we can help.
Why is immigration work so important to you?
Personally, like so many people in our country and in Texas, I come from a family of immigrants. My father came to the United States with his family from Cuba when he was five. If it had not been for a series of fortunate encounters that he had with kind and helpful people, I would not be here doing this work. Immigration work needs to be addressed on so many different levels at once – as a psychologist, I know that our work can impact individual lives and it is truly an honor to be able to enact change at that level.