First-year law student Samantha Stearns hadn't spent much time outside of Iowa until she graduated from Iowa State University and decided to travel to 15 countries.

"I never thought I would end up in law school," said Stearns, explaining that travel shaped her desire to focus on immigration law at Seattle University. "It was my observations of the disparate circumstances combined with my inability to give persecuted people any lasting aid or advice."

Stearns is one student from one of 28 law schools throughout the country that partner with the International Refugee Assistance Program to provide legal aid to refugees seeking asylum in the United States. Their efforts come at a time when President Trump's attempt to instate a travel ban on seven Muslim countries has undermined efforts to help refugees enter the United States.

International Refugee Assistance Program, which is based out of New York, currently has 600 open cases that they wouldn't be able to take on without the help of students.

"Our team is pretty small," said Henrike Dessaules, Communications Manager at International Refugee Assistance Program. "The students help with our case work a lot. It's a great opportunity for them to learn more. They are doing amazing work."

Trump's ban evoked a massive public outcry nationwide. Protests broke out at international airports in major cities before the ban was temporarily halted by a federal appeals court.

However, the White House's hostile attitude toward refugees has not discouraged students from helping refugees.

Claudia Lin, a law student at University of Southern California said that students are eager to work with the International Refugee Assistance Program on campus.

Claudia Lin, law school student and president of IRAP’s USC chapter. Photo courtesy: Marie Targonski-O’Brien
Claudia Lin, law school student and president of IRAP’s USC chapter. Photo courtesy: Marie Targonski-O’Brien

"IRAP was started almost a decade ago by a Yale grad from the law school," Lin said.

"She went on a trip to the Middle East and saw there was a real refugee issue. She was looking for a way law students could actually do something and they took on a few cases."

Lin is a second-year law student who is the president of USC's International Refugee Assistance Program Chapter. She said that 65 students had shown up to help last semester.

Currently, Lin is working on three client cases. She said many of those seeking asylum in the United States have been waiting for two to three years.

Dessaules said the ban has been problematic for refugees who already face slim chances with less than one percent of refugees in the world achieving resettlement.

International Refugee Assistance Program only takes on clients they believe they can help due to the lengthy and complex nature of the process.

"You have to be in an extremely vulnerable category," Dessaules said.

"You have to have a fear of persecution because of your religion, you have to have been a victim of torture or other violence, you are LGBT or in a true medical emergency. These are the things that make it possible for you to be a part of the resettlement program," Dessaules said.

Trump's threats became reality with the proposed 'Muslim ban' which complicated the process for refugees attempting to resettle in the United States.

"He made very damaging statements about refugees," Dessaules said. "We had our worries leading up to the executive order that he signed. That was the moment that we realized that he would follow through with actions."

Even though federal courts ruled against the ban, its impact was felt by asylum seekers.

"All of the clients we had, that were supposed to be resettled in that time, have had their travel dates cancelled. All of their security checks and interviews were canceled. The whole program just stopped or slowed down," Dessaules said.

After the ban, the organization rushed to find emergency solutions and alternative means for the resettlement of refugees and sent attorneys to the airports.

"These people are in the program because they are under threat every single day of their lives. The more that they wait. The more they endure," she said.

Stearns said that the clients with whom she has worked with are only seeking a sense of normalcy for their lives and safety for their families.

"People should have the right to migrate," she said. "People should have the right to live where they are free from persecution and essentially realize their dreams."

Reach staff reporter Marie Targonski-O'Brien here.