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1 Danielle Gies The Advocates for Human Rights Minneapolis, MN Summer 2013 At The Advocates for Human Rights, an intern has a great deal of responsibility and will be challenged strongly and rewarded highly. The intern is responsible for taking calls on the client line, handling the case appropriately (be it a referral or an intake), and doing country and/or situation specific research for the asylum claim. They also perform tasks like interpreting intake interviews, advocating for the case in weekly deliberation meetings, translating primary documents, and clerical duties (i.e. writing/mailing letters and creating client files). The program works with people who are seeking asylum in the U.S., which requires them to be unable, or unwilling, to return to their country of origin due to fear or past/future persecution on the basis of race, nationality, religion, political opinion, or social group. A lot of the calls received on the client line are not asylum- specific, but rather general immigration questions, such as how to prevent deportation. Thus, I made a lot of referrals to other Minnesota offices, and occasionally to offices out- of- state. As the only Spanish- speaker for the majority of my internship, I handled all of the Spanish calls that came into the office. Most of the callers were in detention in Minnesota or came across the border without documentation and were detained by Immigration Customs Enforcement (ICE), then released. My Spanish skills were invaluable; I spoke more Spanish than English for most of my internship. If the person seemed like he or she may have a case for asylum, I did a phone intake that usually lasted between minutes. During the intake, I got the 1

2 individual's demographic information and procedural immigration history, ensured that their household income did not exceed 125% of the poverty line, and gathered the details of their case for asylum. Then one of the staff attorneys would review the information and decide if we should bring the individual in for a longer interview. If they decided no, we referred them to another office. If they decided yes, we scheduled an appointment for them to bring in all of their documents and tell us their entire story. I did not conduct these interviews, but I did interpret for every Spanish- speaking client and occasionally took notes for other interviews. All of my interviews were over two hours long. After the interview, I would write up the post- intake assessment detailing the person's history, which we then used to argue for their acceptance as a client in our Monday morning deliberations. If we declined a client, we referred them to another office or gave them other applications that may have better suited their needs. If we accepted a client, we brought them in for a meeting with one of our staff attorneys to go over their contract. We also had them meet with the new social work intern to discuss any social services they may have needed or wanted, such as housing, mental health services, food, or ESL classes. I conducted these interviews in place of the social work intern when the client was Spanish- speaking. After a client was accepted, I would draft a case summary about their procedural history and their case, which was then sent out in the monthly newsletter to the volunteer attorneys. When a volunteer attorney accepted the case, I did a longer case write- up which included the client s procedural history, general information on their country of origin, specific country- condition information 2

3 pertinent to their case (for example, the situation of homosexual individuals in Jamaica), their story, and any legal or personal issues we identified. Then, we transmitted the case to the volunteer attorney and ensured that the attorney had copies of all the client's documents that were given to us. I also did office work such as writing and mailing letters, making copies, doing country condition research, and creating files for our clients, but most of the work I did directly affected the client's case in our office. Additionally, I interpreted for several attorneys in their meetings to prepare the clients for their hearings with the immigration judge. The Advocates also sponsors the Minnesota Detention Project, where attorneys give one- time pro bono legal advice to immigrants in detention. I did not have the opportunity to interpret for those attorneys, but it is an option. Being highly proficient in Spanish or French is crucial to being an intern at The Advocates in the Refugee and Immigrant Program. Hundreds of thousands of people are crossing the border with Mexico and stating immediately that they want to seek asylum in the U.S.; thus, Border Patrol has to accommodate them somewhere until they can be given a credible fear interview. Many individuals who call the client line have taken this course of action, were found to have a credible fear of returning to their home country (which is not always Mexico), and need assistance in applying for asylum. For a Spanish speaker, having a person who can fully understand their story in their native tongue and be able to advocate for them to those who do not understand the language is crucial. Spanish and French come in all different flavors, 3

4 so adaptability and the ability to talk around a word if the word is unknown are also critical skills. During my time at The Advocates, I was able to accomplish small personal goals, such as updating all of the letter templates on the server and increasing my knowledge of tribal, ethnic, and cultural tensions in African countries. However, I also triumphed in successfully advocating for a number of Spanish- speaking clients from the phone intake to their basic needs assessment interview, as well as several other non- Spanish speakers. Knowing that a person who fled their country of origin because they fear for their life trusts you and depends on you to do the best you can in presenting their case to the rest of the office is thrilling and humbling at the same time. Every time you hear someone s story over the phone, interpret for an intake interview, type up a post- intake assessment, or read a file to write a case summary or write- up, it is both a privilege and a burden. I am so lucky to have been able to hear so many people s stories; I traveled the world from my desk in downtown Minneapolis. However, the stories you hear day in and day out are those of violence, hurt, trauma, misfortune, sadness, and despair. It is not easy to decline a potential client, especially after the intake interview is completed and they have re- hashed their worst moments. Nor is it painless to listen to tales of woe for 8.5 hours a day, 5 days a week. At some point, you may begin to internalize it and feel the misery pulling at your edges, but, you realize how blessed we are to live the lives we lead in a country of freedom free not only in the sense of free speech, freedom of religion, and freedom to assemble, but also free of civil strife, dictators, and corrupt police forces. 4

5 Working at and with The Advocates was an incredibly wonderful opportunity. I was exposed to the process of seeking asylum in the U.S., the agencies that work (together or separately) during that process, the struggles of individuals in countries all over Latin America, Africa, and the Middle East and the strife in those countries. I also learned about the workings of a small- but- efficient non- profit organization, the domestic and international impact it can have, the practice of immigration law, and so much more. In return, I was able to give them my Spanish skills, my ability to juggle multiple assignments and complete them in a timely- but- quality manner, my knack for organization, consolidation, and delegation of work, and my self- starter drive, consistent dedication, and intense passion for the work. I loved my experience with The Advocates and my summer in Minneapolis. It was a highly beneficial opportunity for me as I pursue a graduate degree in Nonprofit Management and possibly law school, all with a focus on immigration, social justice, and human rights. Not only did I develop concrete skills as an interpreter and a researcher, but I also became more aware of a variety of social injustices and found my love for working with, and for, the refugee and asylee population. I know that this internship will be foundational for the work I do in the future. 5

doubles in size during the summer internship season. Through research, education, and

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