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South Royalton Legal Clinic

Vermont Immigrant Assistance

The Vermont Immigrant Assistance Project (VIA) provides pro bono legal services to the most vulnerable immigrants in complex cases, including victims of domestic violence and trafficking, refugees, and asylum seekers. We work with the Vermont Department for Children and Families concerning Special Immigrant Juvenile Cases. VIA is the only Vermont program offering free legal services in such a wide array of immigration matters.

A VIA Case Story
Nau Otant*, who was born into a family of political activists in Burma, spent much of her childhood watching many of her relatives and friends die from bullets or disease. Her family, which is part of the Tavoyan ethnic group, became targets of the military junta that rules Burma, or Myanmar, after her father became active in the democracy movement. Her parents fled to the jungle in the early 1960s when the military took power and lived there until 1998, when they relocated to a refugee camp in Thailand on the border with Burma. Nau said the military would often shoot at members of her ethnic group in the refugee camps.

She came to Vermont when an aid worker sent her on an exchange program to Spaulding High School in Barre. After a year there, she returned to the refugee camp, where her Vermont host parents visited her and helped her enroll in a GED program in the United States. Based on achieving that degree, she was able to return to the U.S. and enroll for a semester at Saint Michael's College in Colchester, and was then accepted to Middlebury College.

The South Royalton Legal Clinic's Vermont Immigrant Assistance (VIA) Project represented Nau when she sought political asylum in the United States. Asylum seekers have to prove a "well-founded fear of persecution" if they return to their home country, with persecution based on at least one of five factors, including political opinion. If a person is granted asylum, he or she may reside and work in the United States permanently and eventually become a U.S. citizen. With the help of VIA, Nau's application for asylum was granted. She returned for a short time to Thailand under a grant to teach journalists about covering human rights and prodemocracy matters in Burma. Nau has since returned to Vermont, where she is a lawful, permanent U.S. resident, and continues to work for democracy in Burma.

*All client names are pseudonyms