As a second-year student with an interest in immigration law, I decided to do my co-op at RAICES (Refugee and Immigrant Center for Education and Legal Services), located in Houston, Texas.
What is RAICES?
RAICES is a non-profit organization that provides free and low-cost legal services to immigrants and refugees in Texas. RAICES’ holistic objective is to make the immigrant community stronger by providing them with legal aid, education, advocacy, and social services. RAICES main office is located in San Antonio. RAICES is divided into three major departments that include: legal services, social services, and outreach. Their official website is: https://www.raicestexas.org/.
My role in RAICES: “Multidisciplinary Intern”
My official title at RAICES is a multidisciplinary intern, which gives me the enormous advantage of working in various departments. I get a chance to work directly with the attorneys or legal assistants. I also engage in outreach to the Houston community because the office is relatively new to this city. I think that having the flexibility of rotating throughout the different departments gives me an advantage of learning how each area works and the effectiveness of collaborative efforts, as well as how a non-profit runs.
My role as an intern at RAICES is to assist the attorneys with their cases or help the outreach program. In outreach, we give presentations to immigrants about their rights or we can tailor a presentation depending on their needs. Until today, I have helped the legal program by writing Country Conditions of the Northern Triangle Countries (Guatemala, El Salvador, Honduras). These are research documents specifying conditions in each country that may help to build the legal case for asylum.
One of the attorneys in charge of the affirmative cases (asylum seekers) assigned me the project of working on the asylum-seeking applicant’s personal statement. I was to explore how could he make his claim for persecution stronger. A personal statement is a document that is written by a person that gives a detailed description of how specific situations in their country of origin makes them fear for their life. I looked in his personal statement and saw keywords that represented current issues back in his country of origin. I did research to understand his claim. As part of this project, I read three articles that talk about asylum and how attorneys can help their clients in making a stronger claim. I also learned how cognitive psychology connects with the personal statement when presented to the judge. When I had a good amount of knowledge about this, I started highlighting and annotating the most important part of his claim. We are now waiting for him to come to his scheduled appointment so we can ask him more about his petition. Additionally, I translated (Spanish to English) all of the legal documents of this individual, because every document presented in court as evidence need to be in English.
As part of the outreach program, I send many emails to different institutions offering the services that RAICES provide. As a result, I am scheduling a “Know Your Rights” presentation for late February. Another role that I have is to call clients and ask questions regarding their cases or to schedule appointments. These are just some of the various tasks that I do during the day within different departments.
“A day at RAICES”
My day-to-day in the office is always different. Some days are slower than others, but I always get to work on my projects. My day starts at 7:30 a.m. and I usually start doing translations or research on current conditions in different countries. Afterwards, clients start to arrive at the office, which is usually one of the best parts of the day. I think it is the best because knowing that RAICES is here to help them get relief is good. Lunchtime at RAICES is a very harmonious experience because we usually all have lunch together at the same time around a table. This is usually the time where my colleagues ask how is our morning going or what plans do we have for the weekend. Sometimes, we have “the question of the day,” which is usually a question about our favorite thing to do or childhood. In this way, we get to know each other better and build a stronger team. Occasionally, we have presentations like “How to do Strategic Planning,” which for me is very enriching to learn this in-depth from a non-profit organization. My afternoons are not long and I usually return to my project work.
How does RAICES influence the community?
I think the most rewarding part of being part of RAICES is knowing that they have a direct impact on the immigrant community. They have a direct impact because they give low-cost legal counseling for people all over the world who are persecuted in their home countries. They help people gain some type of relief, if they are eligible, such as reuniting them with their family members, advocating and educating immigrants about their rights and also providing social services. If they can’t give direct representation to a client, the attorneys will still help them prepare for court because RAICES believes that the right to be heard in court should be respected no matter what. All of these services help strengthen the community to feel empowered and to know that they belong here. They fight for immigrant’s rights and that their integrity is respected.
For more information on the issues that RAICES is targeting you can visit : https://www.raicestexas.org/news/
RAICES helping me reach my Professional & Educational Goals
A big reason of why I am working in RAICES is because I believe that immigrants are a major part of the United States. Over the years the environment has become even more hostile for immigrants, and I wanted to do something to help. As a professional career, I specifically want to pursue Immigration law. What RAICES stands for motivated me to feel that I am in the right place. It fits my educational interests perfectly. I get to see people from Latin America, Africa or the Middle East together in the same place, and I’ve never been exposed to such a diversified environment before. I find it fascinating. Helping with the legal department gives me first-hand experience on the procedures to follow and how to treat the clients. I also read articles that are recommended by attorneys or go to presentations that are extremely educational regarding law procedures and how should a successful non-profit work.
Events and Trainings
- I am part of the logistics team that is organizing an asylum workshop. One other staff member and I are in charge of bringing people together that need to file their asylum application in a timely manner (depending on what the law established). As part of this event, I am in charge of contacting our volunteers to let them know about the workshops and confirm their assistance. I also call the people that need to submit their application. I invite them to the workshop and have attorneys approve their applications before submitting them for free.
- I continue to participate in the internal trainings for the staff of the Houston office, such as “Lunch and Learn,” where we have capacitation on an immigration topics.