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Center Intern Update: Maitte Barrientos

“Remember, remember always, that all of us, and you and I especially, are descended from immigrants…”
~ Franklin D. Roosevelt, 1938.

As an immigrant myself, I never truly understood the weight of those words until this summer.  I have had the privilege to work for Las Americas Immigrant Advocacy Center whose vision is that of a country where all immigrants have access to high quality legal representation based on the principles of justice and human rights. This mission is realized by providing high quality legal representation to immigrants seeking asylum and/or battered women and victims of violent crime.

The picture to the right was taken at one of the older “Misiones” of El Paso, which used to serve as refugee safe houses and are now churches.

About Las Americas

Las Americas is located in El Paso, Texas, and it borders Ciudad Juárez, which is the largest border town in all of Mexico, meaning that there is a constant influx of immigrants coming into El Paso seeking asylum from violent persecution as members of a particular social group or, among others, their religious and political opinion.  The vast majority of these immigrants are not able to afford adequate legal aid in order to properly build their asylum case; that is where Las America comes in and manages to take a great variety of cases at either very low costs or fully pro bono.

The Work

In my short time as an assistant to the sole attorney, Linda Riva, Esq., I’ve had the opportunity to write memoranda, appeal briefs, conduct legal research, assist the attorney in preparing for court, attend court, and most importantly, going into the detention center and meeting in person with the detainees.  Many of our clients have been victims of not only violent crimes in their home countries but have also been subject to abuse or extreme cruelty by United States citizens, and by the time Las Americas is able to intervene, it is often their last recourse.

The Stories

Maitte and Fellow Interns
I have been exposed to unbelievable stories and have met remarkable people who continue to demonstrate their willingness to fight for their rights and the rights of their loved ones, regardless of how dark their circumstances have been in the past.  I have always had difficulty being able to separate my professional life from my personal one, as it is sometimes overwhelming to think about what is at stake in a profession like this: your client’s future.  However, I came to the right place this summer to learn how to balance my work and maintain mental clarity while working through these cases in one of the toughest circuits in terms of immigration laws.  The fifth circuit is notorious for being a highly conservative jurisdiction and, as of recently, the number of approved asylum cases has significantly decreased, particularly in Mexican asylum cases.  This is disheartening as many of our own Mexican clients come to us fleeing persecution from the violent cartel wars that govern Mexico, especially in Ciudad Juárez

Regardless of the obstacles they face, I have been blessed to have been able to work with the staff at Las Americas and each staff member is not only refreshingly passionate about the work that they do, but they also frequently go beyond their means to provide the upmost level of care and assistance to each client.  Las Americas resiliently continues to stand and serve as representatives for clients who seek their aid from over sixty countries around the world, including, but not limited to, Mexico, Cuba, Guatemala, Nigeria, Bangladesh, El Salvador, Nicaragua, Honduras, Panama, and more.

I am truly thankful to have been a part of this humbling experience which has helped me grow in my career as well as in my personal life.  It has been a true pleasure to have worked at Las Americas and I cannot wait to revisit in the near future.