Crusader for the helpless

Former North­east res­id­ent Yuan Tang left teach­ing and found her true call­ing — law school and leg­al ad­vocacy for vul­ner­able im­mig­rants.

Yuan Tang, 27,

For Yuan Tang, busy is nor­mal.

While at­tend­ing Drexel Uni­versity’s Earle Mack School of Law, Tang per­formed pro bono ser­vices by teach­ing Phil­adelphia high school stu­dents about the rel­ev­ance of the Amer­ic­an leg­al sys­tem through the Mar­shall-Bren­nan Con­sti­tu­tion­al Lit­er­acy Pro­ject.

One sum­mer while in law school, she traveled to Cam­bod­ia with Bridges Across Bor­ders South­east Asia, an in­ter­na­tion­al group that tries to as­sist people there faced with in­justice, and helped pro­tect fam­il­ies from forced evic­tions. In Phil­adelphia, Tang foun­ded the Asi­an Pa­cific Amer­ic­an Law Stu­dents As­so­ci­ation. She also as­sisted a clin­ic with the AIDS Law Pro­ject of Pennsylvania, which earned her an award from the Phil­adelphia Bar As­so­ci­ation’s Pub­lic In­terest Sec­tion.

In the spring, Tang went to Haiti with oth­er stu­dents as part of a course on in­ter­na­tion­al hu­man-rights ad­vocacy.

The former North­east res­id­ent, who just gradu­ated from Drexel’s law school, felt ob­liged to add an­oth­er hu­man­it­ari­an task to her packed sched­ule — help­ing im­mig­rants with their leg­al prob­lems. As an in­tern at the Na­tion­al­it­ies Ser­vices Cen­ter on the 1200 block of Arch St., Tang spent last Au­gust to May as­sist­ing at­tor­neys work­ing with Chinese cli­ents.

Be­cause Tang, 27, speaks Chinese and Eng­lish, she was able to help at­tor­neys com­mu­nic­ate with their cli­ents. “I helped with in­ter­pret­ing, pre­par­ing leg­al doc­u­ments, do­ing re­search for at­tor­neys,” she said dur­ing a re­cent in­ter­view. “I did a vari­ety of tasks.”

Her work primar­ily in­volved im­mig­ra­tion mat­ters and do­mest­ic-vi­ol­ence is­sues, she said. Help­ing people fight de­port­a­tion or ap­ply for leg­al res­id­ent status in the United States rep­res­en­ted a sig­ni­fic­ant part of Tang’s im­mig­ra­tion work, she ex­plained.

Be­fore their ar­rival at the Na­tion­al­it­ies Ser­vices Cen­ter in search of help, some of the people had been scammed or had figured that small-busi­ness own­ers in the city’s Chin­atown neigh­bor­hood could help with their prob­lems, she ex­plained. Al­though those mer­chants have no leg­al back­ground, newly ar­rived im­mig­rants of­ten seek them out be­cause there’s no lan­guage bar­ri­er.

A re­cent case that in­volved Tang is a good ex­ample. The cli­ent had entered the United States il­leg­ally about 15 years ago and had been try­ing to ob­tain leg­al status ever since.

“Some at­tor­neys had taken ad­vant­age of him,” she said, re­call­ing how the man even­tu­ally made his way to the Na­tion­al­it­ies Ser­vices Cen­ter and asked for help.

His case was still in pro­gress when Tang’s in­tern­ship ended. However, she might re­vis­it the case if it’s out­come hasn’t been de­cided, be­cause now that she’s a law-school grad, she’ll be go­ing to work as an at­tor­ney at the Na­tion­al­it­ies Ser­vices Cen­ter later this year.

Law is an oc­cu­pa­tion­al change for Tang. She lived in the North­east un­til go­ing to col­lege — her edu­ca­tion in­cluded the Thomas Creighton Ele­ment­ary School in Sum­mer­dale — and she was a teach­er for a few years be­fore de­cid­ing to go to law school.

Her stud­ies were very de­mand­ing, Tang said. She was tak­ing classes, work­ing 15 to 20 hours a week at a non-profit leg­al clin­ic, and then do­ing five to 10 hours each week at the Na­tion­al­it­ies Ser­vices Cen­ter.

“I really en­joyed the hands-on ex­per­i­ence,” Tang said. “And I was really thank­ful for my co-work­ers.”

So how does this busy act­iv­ist un­wind? Is it work, work, work, with no time for any­thing else?

“I don’t think I found a good bal­ance un­til halfway through my second year of law school,” she said. “Most of my friends are not from law school — on pur­pose — so I don’t live in a bubble. I take time out for my­self.”

She reads and she still uses her skills from her teach­ing days. To re­lax, Tang said, she taught Earth sci­ences to pu­pils at a Chris­ti­an academy.

“They were great kids,” she said. “Be­ing with them really re­ju­ven­ated me.” ••

Re­port­er John Loftus can be reached at 215-354-3110 or

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