"I am grateful to Yorrie and oh-so-grateful to Casa Cornelia for the opportunity to serve."

A Tale of Two Refugees

A Reflection by Volunteer Attorney and Board Member Nancy Aeling, Esq.

Of the thousands upon thousands of words I read, heard and studied in Law School, one sentence by a professor stands out: “For unto whomsoever much is given, of him shall be much required.” (Luke 12:48.) My work as a Volunteer Attorney at Casa Cornelia Law Center has been a double blessing. I have found a path for using my legal training as a way to give, and in the process discovered that you always – and I do mean always – get more than you give.

In August 2016, I met Yorrie* and her four-year-old daughter Mellie* for their first hearing in San Diego. Yorrie and Mellie fled their native Eritrea [1] to avoid persecution and imprisonment for seeking information from the authorities about their husband and father. Without going into detail on the human rights hell inflicted by the government on Eritrean citizens, Yorrie and Mellie fled to the Sudan. After months in hiding, Yorrie and Mellie took a perilous journey that brought us together at their first hearing in the U.S.

​​That first hearing was legally perilous given my short experience with U.S. Immigration Law. Fortunately, Senior Staff Attorney Arwa Kakavand was there to make sure nothing went too far, astray. In the two years that followed, I slowly got acquainted with Yorrie and Mellie; and under the patient tutelage of Supervising Attorney Jesse Imbriano, I started learning a bit of immigration law. Yorrie’s case was a textbook example of the old chestnut: what can go wrong, will go wrong. The judge delayed her hearing twice with no explanation given. A third time, we appeared in the courtroom with reams of papers to file, only to have the judge realize he did not have a Tigrinya-speaking interpreter and delay the hearing yet again. Yorrie’s work permit was improperly denied, which was issued instead to her then five-year-old daughter.

Through it all, Yorrie faced homelessness, poverty, and constant uncertainty with courage and grace. When the two were briefly housed in a shelter, Yorrie spent the days searching for a school for Mellie, determined that her daughter would be educated. Unable to work legally, Yorrie volunteered at a facility that provides food, clothing, and social services to some of the poorest people in San Diego. On August 10, 2018, Yorrie and Mellie passed their first hurdle to becoming U.S. citizens when they were granted asylum at the Immigration Court in downtown San Diego. This was the result of the combined efforts of Casa Cornelia, a supporting community, and the calm, steady determination of Yorrie, herself. Yorrie is endlessly grateful for all she has been given. I do not know if she will ever understand how much more she has given to others – to me. I am grateful to Yorrie and oh-so-grateful to Casa Cornelia for the opportunity to serve.


​Nancy Aeling, Esq.

HR Results

Board Member, Casa Cornelia Law Center



[1] Eritrea is a country in Northeast Africa.

* Clients names have been changed to protect confidentiality.