Malaysia mission


Photo courtesy of Kara Naseef

Student to work at UN Refugee Agency in Kuala Lumpur

By Sheila Pursglove
Legal News

University of Michigan Law School 2L student Kara Naseef will leave for Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia in mid-July, to spend six weeks with the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) in the Refugee Status Determination (RSD) Unit.

One of five recipients of a 2018 Fellowship in the Program in Refugee and Asylum Law, Naseef will participate in refugee assessment arrangements, engage in a mission trip, undertake an overarching research assignment, and receive mentorship from the UNHCR Representative to Malaysia and the Deputy Representative

Naseef, who will graduate in 2019 with a J.D. from MLaw as well as a Master’s in Public Policy from U-M’s Gerald Ford School of Public Policy, earned her undergrad degree in international/global studies from American University in Washington, D.C. Interested in pursuing a career in immigration law/policy, she is specifically interested in adult populations from Africa, the Middle East, and Southeast Asia and their adjustment into American society.

Naseef got an early exposure to different languages and cultures as her parents hosted international exchange students since before she was born. Her own family background also piqued her interest in immigration.

“My great-grandparents all immigrated to Philadelphia from Italy, Lebanon, Austria, and Lithuania,” she says. “Although I never knew them, I was interested in their stories and stories of other families who immigrated more recently than my own.”

Bitten by the travel bug, Naseef traveled to several countries, including Israel, Belize, Germany, and Belgium, and wanted to continue this exploration of the world through her undergraduate education.

She reached an advanced proficiency in Swahili during her junior year of undergrad, when—after learning beginner Swahili at the University of Florida—she spent a year in Zanzibar, Tanzania and studied the language as a Boren scholar, funded through the National Security Education Program. She conducted youth leadership training sessions in Swahili and took courses in the language.

“I spent my second semester in North-West Tanzania, where I studied international development and volunteered at an organization that helped women to understand and fight for their rights, both nationally and on a village level,” she says. “I translated many of their interviews.”    

After graduation, Naseef spent close to three years with Diplomatic Language Services in Arlington, Va., primarily working on three projects; a 9-month Swahili curriculum for the Navy Seals, after which she was promoted to project manager and handled a Somali curriculum, and a culture curriculum for the Marines Special Operations Command.

“My favorite part was that each day I learned something new about a language or culture,” she says.

Law school wasn’t on Naseef’s original career radar.  “I always said I’d never be a lawyer—even though I preferred reading books to watching television, I was convinced law school required too much reading that was too dense and too boring,” she says.

A sophomore course at American University in “Women and the Law, taught by political science professor and lawyer Karen O’Connor, changed her view.    

“I enjoyed the way the casebook challenged me to think and the difficulty of arguing both sides of a gender discrimination case before a mock Supreme Court,” she says. “That was my hardest and most rewarding class in undergrad. It made me realize that puzzling over legal doctrine was a good fit for the way I think. Now I’m in law school, I don’t find the reading too bad either.”

Naseef interned last summer at a detained and a non-detained immigration court in Phoenix, helping to research and draft opinions for immigration judges.

“I worked with four attorney advisors and nine different immigration judges throughout the summer,” she says. “I was also able to sit in on several hearings ranging from asylum applications to bond hearings.”

Last year, she served as a student attorney and legal director for MLaw’s International Refugee Assistance Project, working with two other students and a supervising attorney from Weil, Gotshal & Manges LLP. The client ultimately chose not to pursue an application for Special Immigrant Status at this time.

This year, Naseef is the co-director of the Michigan Law Chapter of IRAP. “I work with our board to hold policy events, training sessions for our student attorneys, and to implement policies and procedures to better serve our clients,”
she says. “This year we also focused on raising money so we can sponsor students to attend the IRAP summit in New York City next fall and travel to MENA—the Middle Eastern and North Africa trip—in the summer to learn more about IRAP’s impact on the ground.”    

In addition to her work for IRAP, Naseef tries to participate in pro bono events throughout the year, and has volunteered at an expungement fair in Detroit and a name change clinic in Ann Arbor. Naseef is Managing Editor of RefLaw and an associate editor for the Michigan Journal of Law Reform. A mentorship chair for the MLaw Organization of Public Interest Students, a peer tutor and previously an orientation leader, in her 1L year she served as a marshal of the Campbell Moot Court.

“I enjoy the opportunity to explore both sides of an argument and gain practical legal skills that are often not a part of the traditional law school classroom,” she says.

Naseef led last year’s LawBreaks trip to Belize where the group worked with the only LGBT rights group in the country and conducted research for pending Cyber Bullying legislation. This coming spring she will participate in the LawBreaks trip to Dilly, Texas, where the team will advocate for children and women at the South Texas Family Residential Center, the largest immigrant detention center in the country.

Naseef is striving to experience as much as she can and work in the public interest.

“One position I think I’d love is working as a clinical professor at a law school,” she says. “I think it would be the perfect way to combine my background in education and curriculum development, with my new legal and policy analysis skills.”

A native of Cheltenham, Pa., Naseef currently makes her home in Ann Arbor, where she enjoys swimming and playing softball.