Laura Mawdsley, Catholic Charities Immigration Legal Services

I chose Catholic Charities, Immigration Legal Services for my internship experience. The basis of Catholic Charities Immigrant Services is to unite families. This goal is based on the United States Bishops’ position on immigration and interest to give legal status to all undocumented immigrants and allow the free movement of migrant workers. The Catholic Church is working through the legal channels of immigration law to help documented and undocumented immigrants reunite their families and become legal workers.

ILS staff consists of three lawyers, a director, a finance person and a caseworker.  Two of the lawyers do intake in the office and the third is the rural lawyer, traveling all over the diocese doing intake.  The office processes between 35-60 new intakes each month.  We help with paperwork for green cards, visas and other immigration issues.  We do intakes on Monday, Wednesday and Friday and limit the number of appointments, which helps provide better service and lessen the stress on the staff.  Each appointment is $35.00 and the wait for new appointments is two to three months.  People hear about ILS from their local parishes, other social and legal providers and the television station Univision.

My internship work encompassed a wide variety of tasks.  I started off with simple things such as updating client files on the computer and researching the availability of domestic violence shelters in Honduras, El Salvador and Nicaragua.  This information will be used as a resource for women who have to go back to their home country and fear for their life.  I have written a grant application and completed the application for the Austin American Statesman’s Season for Sharing.  Our nominee was a refugee family from Africa and was accepted for participation this year.  I’ve made a list of consulates from several countries for clients to have as resources and called the National Visa Center to check on the status of cases.

I worked on preparations for the naturalization clinic held on October 6, 2007 in Austin.    Some of the participants were already clients that never followed through with paperwork and are remedying that.  I have done preliminary work on filling out their N-400 naturalization application with information we have in their file.  I’ve also done I-600 applications on three boys who have citizenship but haven’t completed the process by requesting their certificate of citizenship.  The amount of paperwork for each step is amazing.  Participants were encouraged to pre-register for the clinic so we could give them appointments and spread them out during the day.  Of course we had walk-ins and were able to fit them into the schedule, but most had to wait for several hours.  Each participant was charged fifty dollars to go through the screening process.  The fifty dollars included meeting with a lawyer and completion of the application, including 2 photos, which we took for them and photocopying of all documents, putting them into an envelope and giving them directions to the nearest post office.

I have written many letters to clients and have done translation of baptismal and marriage certificates.  But the most common letters were to clients that have just received their Lawful Permanent Resident status.  We congratulate the clients and send them information on their rights and responsibilities as new residents and let them know they can naturalize in 5 years.  All of these letters and the extra information that is included are in Spanish.  The other letter I have sent is for clients that have just attained citizenship. We congratulate them and let them know if they have any additional needs to contact us but for now their file will be closed.  We also include information on being a good citizen to let them know of their new responsibilities.  These letters were all in English except one.

By far, my favorite assignment of the internship was researching country conditions.  The country conditions reports are sent with applications for asylum to the Consulate.  The reports are used to illustrate life in the home country so my focus is on the hazards in the country.  I created reports for Mexico, Venezuela, Romania, Honduras, Nicaragua and Guatemala.  The search parameters I use are similar for all countries because I have areas I want to target for information.  I want to know about the economy (opportunity for employment, unemployment rate, labor abuses and if they are common), healthcare system (who has access and how costly is it), education (how long do children stay in school? What is the literacy rate?), domestic violence, gang violence, do they have a street children population?  Are the police protective or do they cause most of the problems in the culture?  Is their drug violence affecting communities?  I use anything I can think of that could shape a harmful daily life for citizens.  I try to find reports and articles that are within the last 12 months.  When I researched countries I began with the State Department and printed their Human Rights violations report for 2006. Then I looked at Doctors Without Borders, Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International, IPS news service, Human Rights First, MADRE, World Health Organization, global, and Global Exchange. I also used the Texas State library and search Lexisnexis and Ebsco databases for journal, magazine and newspaper articles.

I have enjoyed working at Catholic Charities, Immigration Legal Services. This internship did challenge my expectation of working in the non-profit arena.  Advocacy work is intense and I am not sure the wage would be satisfactory.  ILS does look out for the well-being of the employees by regulating the amount of casework and giving ample days off.  Because I did enjoy the research aspect of my internship, my job search will probably lean towards a job that lets me do some research. What I have learned from Catholic Charities, Immigration Legal Services, is that the goal of immigrant reform should be legislation that allows immigrants who have entered, legally and also those without inspection, the ability to aspire to full high quality lives.  This approach to the immigrant community is a culturally relevant approach and looks out for the well being of the community it is serving.  This culturally appropriate approach is how I picture anthropology at work.

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