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Center Intern Update: Maitte Barrientos

Las Americas Mural
Maitte spent her summer interning as a law clerk for Las Americas Immigrant Advocacy Center. Las Americas Immigrant Advocacy Center is a grassroots, community-based organization working to provide high-quality legal services to low-income immigrants. Las Americas’ clients are among some of the most vulnerable immigrants at the center of today’s immigration reform debates. 
Mid-way through my internship, I was blessed enough to have the opportunity to partake in an International Human Rights study abroad program.  Although I had some initial hesitation since I didn’t want to leave the cases I had been working on behind, I knew I couldn’t miss out on that opportunity.  The classes were turned out to be incredibly interesting and very impactful as I was able to take my experience at my internship and tie it in with other contemporary global human rights violations.  I wanted to wrap up my study abroad by going to a place that blatantly exemplified mass human rights violations on a massive scale: the Auschwitz concentration camps in Poland. 

I remember walking around Auschwitz-Birkenau with such a heavy heart, knowing that I would never be able to fully grasp the amount of pain that millions of victims suffered.  As you walk into Auschwitz you can feel something in your heart drop, and I believe that the pain that millions of Jews, and other prisoners, endured somehow lingers there, as a reminder to those who visit to never repeat something like that again.  I’m very grateful that I was able to have such a humbling experience amidst my summer internship because it really reinforced what I already knew in my heart: I was called into the legal field in order to advocate for those who may be going through the most painful times in their lives.

Interns with Staff
Working at Las Americas has exposed me to men, women and children who have unjustly suffered (through no fault of their own) at the hands of not only criminals in their country, but their own government as well.  Every day I am privileged enough to come into an office where we provide top legal aid to women who have been systemically raped and abused, men who have escaped persecution in their home countries based on religion, indigenous individuals who are stateless in the countries they considered home, and other victims of human rights violations.  Most recently, I had the opportunity to work on a Mexican asylum case in which members of the strongest drug cartel in Mexico massacred the entire family of a young man.  This man’s travesty across the border included seeing his parents murdered, his brothers kidnapped and tortured, and finally having to face months of solitary confinement for his own safety, as his persecutors were in the same detention facility as him. 

Church in Mesillas
In the seventh circuit, Mexican asylum cases are rarely granted (for political reasons) regardless of the level of violence the victims are facing back home, and unfortunately it is a devastating blow to advocates in the area of El Paso who are constantly fighting against lack of resources and lack of legal relief for their clients.  This was the first big asylum case that I was completely in charge of, working independently and devising the strategy for how the case should proceed. Almost a month-and-a-half after sending in the parole request, I was very touched to find out that the Deportation Officer had granted it and that our client was no longer detained unnecessarily.  That was a very significant victory because it greatly increases his chances of being eligible for other legal relief in the future as asylum may not be a possibility. 

I am grateful to have been a part of Las Americas Immigrant Advocacy Center, hearing clients’ stories, getting to know the clients, and being a part of a team that so selflessly goes above and beyond to do incredible legal work.  As my summer in El Paso comes to an end, I can say that after being at Las Americas after only a short period, it has been the most fulfilling time of my legal career.

Additional photos:

In Ciudad Juarex, Mexico
(Mexico’s largest border city)

White Sands Sunset