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Crusader for the helpless

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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 jloftus@bsmphilly.com

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