Delmy C. Rivera brought her empathy for immigrants to her Silbert Public Interest Fellowship at the Central American Resource Center, an institution dedicated to defending the civil and human rights of Central Americans in Los Angeles. What she learned about the impact immigration law has on people's lives inspired her to continue volunteering at CARECEN after her fellowship concluded. The following is her first-person account of a rewarding summer helping marginalized clients gain asylum and access to the legal system:
I realized the importance of immigration law when I was very young. After all, many of my own friends were locked out of the higher-education path because of their immigrant status. It was because of my personal experience, and my year of law school, that I was very interested in beginning my externship at the Central American Resource Center (CARECEN). I was eager to begin helping those who would otherwise be unable to access the legal system.
CARECEN was founded in the 1980s by a group of Salvadoran refugees who were fleeing from the civil war in El Salvador. It primarily serves low-income people from Central America, but it also takes cases from all over the world. CARECEN provides a variety of immigration services: asylum, NACARA, and VAWA applications; work permit and legal permanent resident renewals; motion to re-open; adjustment of status; withholding of removal and cancellation of removal, among others.
I began my externship by learning about immigration law, as well as the history and needs of the population CARECEN serves. This helped me gain knowledge on this particular area of the law, and made me feel confident about working with clients. This confidence grew as I started to work with clients and started applying the law to real-life situations.
I had the opportunity to apply my newfound knowledge when I was assigned to work on an asylum case for a client who was fleeing Honduras due to the extreme domestic violence she suffered in her country. As I became acquainted with the case file, I began to realize the impact that asylum can have on an individual's livelihood. For those who escape their country, acquiring asylum in the United States can mean the difference between life and death. Being involved in a case like this was a great responsibility. And because I was aware of the high stakes involved, I took my job very seriously. The research skills I acquired in law school enabled me to effectively look for case law, statutes, and regulations that applied and benefited my client.
In addition to working directly with clients, I was afforded the opportunity to go to immigration court and observe proceedings. I was able to observe asylum, withholding of removal and NACARA cases. Judges' decisions affected entire families: U.S.-born-citizen children had to leave all that they knew and go to a foreign country to accompany their parents, families were separated, and for some whose asylum applications were granted, their dreams of starting a life in a new country were realized. Being in a courtroom was an educational experience that allowed me to have a better understanding of the effects of immigration law on clients' lives.
Working at CARECEN gave me the opportunity to learn about the different aspects of immigration law. I not only learned how to analyze and apply statutes and regulations, but I also learned the impact that they have in the lives of those who are directly affected by it. More importantly, working for those who otherwise would be unable to access the legal system was one of the most enriching experiences for me. Because of the valuable experience I gained at CARECEN, I have chosen to continue working there this semester by volunteering eight hours a week.