One of my favorite quotes of all time is by Dr. Seuss:
“Unless someone like you cares a whole awful lot,
nothing is going to get better, it’s not.”
My AP Psychology teacher during my senior year of high school showed me this quote after class one day, said it epitomizes me, and that I should hang it up somewhere. It has stuck with me ever since. Besides the fact that I love all of Dr. Seuss’s stories, this line from The Lorax resonates in everything that I do and the amount of effort I put into just about everything. This type of mentality can be applied to just about anything, from pursuing what you are passionate about to improving relationships you have. It just takes one person to listen and want to change something. No one cares about the trees dying as much as the Lorax does, no one cares as much about Juvenile Diabetes as much as I do, and no one cares about the situation of the immigrants as much as their immigration lawyer does at Catholic Charities Legal Services. Catholic Legal Services (CLS) is a legal firm that is centered on immigration and helping immigrants become naturalized and/or citizens and getting them visas and asylum.
Working at Catholic Legal Services opened my eyes to a whole new type of passion and being of service to others. The clients who come to CLS have so much “baggage” with them and their stories are so complex. I have spent a lot of time over these past few weeks talking to the individual lawyers at the firm, asking them to clarify legal jargon, specific legal questions, and life questions too. It has been really rewarding getting to interact with them and hear why they chose to be immigration lawyers, the difficulty of the work that they do, and to hear their side of the law and all of its intricacies. Immigration law is not that forgiving and is very challenging.
At CLS, they do everything in their power to help their client’s case out, but in the end, if the client does not provide enough evidence and does not testify well, it is the judge’s ultimate decision, and most of the time it is not in their favor. I had the opportunity to witness two asylum hearings and it was a unique experience. Knowing that these two clients are probably going to get removed is hard not only for the clients and their family members, but for the lawyers as well. If the lawyers do not at least try to save their clients, they will never know if they can save them. Listening in on these hearings was an insight into our laws and judicial system first hand. With the controversial issue of the unaccompanied minors as a whole across our nation right now, the sticky situation with Cuba and Haiti, and the interpretation and implementation of the immigration laws and different ways to get residency here, it takes a lot to be in this type of work and there are a lot of changes that need to be made in regards to immigration as a whole.
Brother Mike, our supervisor, said it best when he said something along the lines of, “crazy laws, but wonderful people.” Some of these stories of what people have had to deal with in their home country and how much of a better life they are living here in the States now are mind-boggling. The American Dream to some of these clients may just be a dream, but it is a dream that probably kept them alive when they had nothing and were crossing the border. I do not think that I could ever be a lawyer or an immigration lawyer, for that matter, but I think it is great for me to be immersed in this type of environment, so that I can better understand what some people are going through.
My first day in the office was quite a memorable first day. My Spanish has really come in handy here and I love how often I can use it. Brother Mike, our supervisor, asked me into his office, so that I could translate for him. In his office was this really nice Haitian family who are trying to apply for asylum. He wanted me to go with the family to translate at a doctor’s appointment they had for their daughter in an hour. At first, I was really nervous, because I was doubting my Spanish abilities, especially in that sort of context, but also I did not know if this was something I was qualified to do, but I was not going to let Brother Mike and this family down. This psychological evaluation was going to determine if the child would get asylum. At the appointment, it started off well, but once the doctor started asking the harder questions, the mother and I were having trouble communicating, as she was having difficulty coming up with the words to say what she wanted to in Spanish. At that point, the doctor got a Creole interpreter on the phone, and the mother told her story with much more ease. It was quite a unique and humbling experience and it was crazy that I was thrown into it, due to seeing the how much the lawyers care and how difficult this type of work can be.
In addition to helping out with clerical tasks during my time at CLS, I was tasked with the daunting project of creating a community outreach program to showcase to the immigrant population what Catholic Legal Services has to offer, what services they provide, and what kinds of other services are available to immigrants, in regards to healthcare, housing, food, and other similar things. “And do it in three weeks,” Brother Mike said. “You’re into public health. Figure it out!” he said. The whole point of the event was to educate the public and make them aware of what services and programs are available to them in the community, without having to be an actual citizen. It was awesome that they trusted me so much and actually wanted me to make this happen. It was also a little intimidating. Meghan and Karina, whom I also worked with at Catholic Legal Services, helped me to develop a project proposal and plan and we presented it to the higher-ups of the firm to have it approved. The plan was approved, but unfortunately was never implemented as we could not fit in the schedule of the other community agencies we wanted to partner with. It was really great that I was given this opportunity to combine things that I am passionate about into a real-world application.
It has been great learning more about the entire immigration process and everything what it takes to become a citizen, along with all of the obstacles that can arise in the process. I have never really been interested in law or knew a lot about the immigration process, so it has been great becoming more versed in these areas.