Becca Heller was a student at Yale Law School in 2008 when she and some classmates decided to help Iraqi refugees resettle in the United States and other western countries. From that informal student project grew the International Refugee Assistance Project (IRAP), a leading refugee rights organization that leverages law schools and volunteer law firms to help displaced people resettle. The group was on the front lines pushing against President Donald Trump’s travel ban in 2017.

The efforts of Heller, IRAP’s director, have not gone unnoticed. Last week she was named one of 25 MacArthur fellows. Recipients of the so-called MacArthur genius grants receive $625,000. spoke with Heller about winning the prize, the challenges IRAP faces in today’s political climate, and how law students can pursue their passions to make a difference. Her answers have been edited for length and clarity.

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