“For me, tikkun olam has always meant pursuing justice for those who are enslaved, disenfranchised and in danger; shining a light on what is broken in the world; and enlisting people with power to join the fight for the women, men, and children who cannot fight for themselves.”
The International Refugee Assistance Project (IRAP) is the legal advocacy organization for refugees and displaced people in need of a safe place to call home.
IRAP’s mission is to create and enforce a system of legal and human rights on behalf of refugees and displaced persons, and to mobilize direct legal assistance, litigation, and policy advocacy benefiting over 350,000 vulnerable individuals in search of safety.
IRAP has provided legal aid to over 30,000 individuals from all over the world, whose lives were in immediate danger. IRAP focuses its assistance on those most in need of protection and resettlement: unaccompanied children, women at risk of trafficking or sexual and gender based violence, LGBTI individuals, U.S. military allies, and survivors of torture.
IRAP was the first organization to mobilize more than 1,600 volunteer lawyers at airports around the country to defend the rights of those affected by President Trump’s Muslim ban and is named as the lead plaintiff in the first lawsuit filed that challenged the order in its entirety. Since then, IRAP has brought some of the most significant impact litigation benefiting refugees that could maintain pathways to safety for approximately 175,000 individuals. For example, IRAP has won a settlement that could allow 2,700 Central American children to reunite with family members in the United States.
In addition, IRAP has sought and won broad systemic reforms of U.S. and international laws and protocols that have aided over 170,000 displaced persons, including the enactment of twelve pieces of U.S. Congressional legislation. IRAP’s model has engaged more than 2,400 law students and lawyers from 30 law schools and over 95 international law firms and multinational corporations in human rights law and advocacy, and fought to win a place for refugee legal aid in the pro bono portfolios of some of the world’s most prestigious law firms.
Becca Heller is the Executive Director and co-founder of IRAP. She has received numerous awards in recognition of her work with IRAP, including a MacArthur Fellowship, the Charles Bronfman Prize, the American Constitutional Society David Carliner Public Interest Award, a Skadden Fellowship, a Draper Richards Kaplan Fellowship, an Echoing Green Fellowship, a Gruber Human Rights Fellowship, the South Asian Bar Association of Connecticut Annual Community Service Award and a Dartmouth College Martin Luther King Jr. Emerging Leader in Social Justice Award. She was also named Foreign Policy’s Citizen Diplomat of the Year, Politico’s Women Rule Summit Ambassador, one of the Christian Science Monitor’s “30 under 30” change makers, and is a term member of the Council on Foreign Relations. Becca was a visiting clinical lecturer at Yale Law School from 2010 to 2018, and has also been honored as an Iscol Family Program for Leadership Development in Public Service Lecturer at Cornell University and as a speaker at the Chicago Ideas Week Edison Talk.
Becca’s interest in the legal challenges facing refugees began on a trip to Jordan during the summer after her first year in law school. During her stay, she visited with six different refugee families; each of them identified legal assistance as their most urgent need. Having just completed her first semester in Yale Law School’s Immigration Legal Services clinic doing asylum work, Becca believed that law students could assist refugees applying for resettlement. She returned to Yale and, together with Jon Finer, Mike Breen, Steve Poellot, and Kate Brubacher, founded IRAP in 2008. Becca received her J.D. from Yale Law School in May 2010.
During law school, she participated in the Worker and Immigrant Rights Advocacy Clinic, the Immigration Legal Services Clinic, and the Lowenstein International Human Rights Clinic. She served as an Articles Editor for the Yale Journal of International Law, and received a Coker Fellowship to teach legal writing to first year law students. She also received the Charles G. Albom Prize for excellence in the area of judicial and administrative appellate advocacy in connection with a Law School clinical program.
Prior to law school, Becca lived and worked in Sub-Saharan Africa for two years, including one year as a U.S. Student Fulbright Scholar in Malawi. She graduated summa cum laude from Dartmouth College in 2005. While in college, she was also the recipient of Campus Compact’s National Student Humanitarian Award.
AWARD PRESENTATION: Becca Heller receives The Charles Bronfman Prize
Becca Heller is the youngest recipient to ever receive the Charles Bronfman Prize award. Her leadership, commitment to justice and courageous loyalty embody all that the Prize stands for. She is an extraordinary lawyer, achieving legislative victories and setting legal precedents on a global level for the world's most vulnerable refugees, while providing a luminous example to everyone who cares about human rights.WATCH HERE