Emily Arthur, 2L
Las Americas Immigrant Advocacy Center, Texas
I thought I’d take some time to update you on the first half of my summer. I spent the past six weeks interning at a small nonprofit in El Paso, TX. It was called Las Americas Immigrant Advocacy Center, and I couldn’t be happier with my experience there!
The first week was an orientation to immigration law and El Paso/Juarez in general. Having already taken immigration law and participated in the practicum, I was ready to jump right in. But I was interested to see the nuances of living on a border town and how that affects the immigration process. We spent the first few days learning about the main types of services Las Americas provides. We had sessions on the Violence Against Women Act, Deferred Action of Childhood Arrivals, U-Visas, and Asylum. We also had sessions on how the case system was managed and other office research systems. On Friday of the first week, we went on a tour of the border. We started out by driving up on the mountain and looking out over the cities. It was so interesting because, unless you look really closely, it appears to be one big city. We then drove to a part of New Mexico where the border is lined with a chain link fence. Down closer to where Texas and Mexico meet New Mexico, there is no fence at all. Customs and Border Patrol watch as people from both countries walk up to a white monument. I literally had one foot in Mexico and one foot in the United States. It was very interesting. Finally, we ended the tour by seeing the massive fence that runs along the border through the downtown areas and by driving past the bridges that connect the two countries.
I was assigned to work under the managing attorney at Las Americas. She mainly did asylum work and so that’s how I spent my six weeks there. I filled out applications, researched country conditions, drafted motions, wrote letters to congressmen, and so many other things. I also got to write an appellate brief for a Convention Against Torture claim for a client from El Salvador. I had clients from Mexico, Nigeria, and Somalia as well. I helped to develop strategies for the asylum cases that were heading to court and compiled exhibits. In addition to the office work, I often got to go to immigration court and the detainment center. Nearly all of my clients were detained and so the court is right inside the detainment center. I also got to help interview clients. One week, I even got to attend a meeting at the Mexican Consulate. I thoroughly enjoyed everything I did there. The staff was so nice and I loved the environment. It was a very close, energetic place. It really solidified for me that this is the type of law I want to pursue.
About two weeks into my internship, something interesting began to happen in El Paso. South Texas has been completely overwhelmed with the amount of immigrants crossing over the border. They began to send plane loads of people to El Paso. Our first week, we got a plane of 270 people. Annunciation House, a local nonprofit that serves the homeless immigrants, decided that the community needed to help. The planes would arrive, ICE would process the immigrants, and then release them on their own recognizance. This meant that they would be able to await their court dates from outside the detainment center. After that, ICE would drive the immigrants to wherever we were located. Annunciation House rallied together all sorts of nonprofits, churches, and everyday citizens in an effort to keep these immigrants off the streets. I volunteered there often after work.
When the immigrants were dropped off, we would take them in and register them. We would provide them with clothing and food and a place to sleep and shower. Volunteers would sit down with them and find out where they were heading. They would call family members to let them know they were alright and waiting in El Paso. The family members would then purchase tickets for their family to come join them. The immigrants would then be moved to a different room where other volunteers would call local El Pasoans to help drive them to the bus stations or airport. I spent my first few days volunteering by arranging transport to the stations.
After that, I began translating for the medical team. We had a doctor, nurse, or medical student on site nearly all the time. I would get the story from the immigrants, inform the doctors, and tell the patients what was happening. I would help take temperatures and give medicine. It was so sad to see how sick everyone was after walking for days through the desert and then spending time in cold concrete cells in the detainment center.
All in all, in my time there we probably took in close to 1,000 immigrants! The volunteer experience was amazing and I can’t believe I got to be a part of something so current and relevant to the type of law I want to pursue.
In my free time, I traveled to Juarez several times, went hiking in New Mexico, and hung out with new friends that I made. El Paso was amazing and I totally recommend this internship in the future.