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A journal of social practice & professional engagement for the Antioch community
 

Swimming against the anti-immigrant current: Kensy Zelaya ’21 at the Central American Resources Center in Houston

I am Kensy Zelaya, a fourth-year student at Antioch College with a self-designed major in political economy and social psychology. For my last co-op, I found an internship at CARECEN, located in Houston, Texas.

What is CARECEN? 

 Under the slogan “No Human Being is Illegal,” the Central American Resources Center (CARECEN) is a non-profit organization that provides legal services to Central American immigrants and beyond. Since 1985, CARECEN has empowered the immigrant community by assisting thousands of people in their citizenship path. In an effort to respond to the growing demand of Central Americans due to the immigrant reform of 1986, CARECEN offered a “hands-on” response to the increasing numbers of Central Americans entering the United States. CARECEN’s mission is to improve the living conditions of immigrants in Texas by providing legal services and advocating for the immigrant community. The CARECEN located in Houston is part of a larger network of other offices located in major cities across the USA (Los Angeles, San Francisco, New York, and Washington D.C.). 

My Role at CARECEN 

At CARECEN, I work in the reception area, and I also translate legal documents as well as complete forms in the National Visa Center (USCIS) for our clients. My most significant role is organizing all the work coming into the office while also meeting the deadlines I am given with translations or client applications. My morning in the office starts at 9: 00 am when I open the office and make sure everything is ready to start receiving clients. Our walk-ins and appointments start arriving trying to get different services done, like DACA, Citizenship forms, or their residency card. I make sure that they have the qualifications and the documents they need to get their processes done. I compile and organize the forms and documents before giving them to my supervisor, who distributes the job amongst the other paralegals. 

One of the most enjoyable aspects of working in a place like CARECEN is that there is a community feeling with my co-workers and the clients due to its small size. I get to do my job like the translations or filling out forms, but I also know who I am doing it for. I think it is important because as a worker I am not detached from the work I am doing or the clients receiving the service. There is not only a monetary value to what I am doing, which is a great criticism for our current capitalist society. Many elders want to renew their green card or apply to other services but are illiterate. I help them to fill out their forms, and we end up laughing and forming a bond. It is meaningful to see their faces full of joy after knowing that someone was willing to help them. Since we help low-income people who cannot afford an expensive immigration lawyer, our focus is not the financial means, but helping those who need their legal services done.

I enjoy what I do and have the opportunity to build meaningful relationships with the people I work with—they say that I am part of their family. As a worker, I think this is important because I feel that I belong here and that besides being relatively new, they do not alienate me. I think that my job is essential because they are always supportive and at the same time, they give me responsibilities that I am held accountable for. Interestingly, the people I work with are older than me yet at different stages in their lives. I find it interesting that I have learned a lot from them in our conversations and their experiences in life and the professional field. 

Meaningful impact on the immigrant community

I think my job directly impacts the immigrant community, their daily lives, and their accessibility to good working conditions, healthcare, and the certainty of living the “American Dream.” Now, more than ever under the current administration, the undocumented community is pushed into the shadows, and thousands of people protected by working permits walk on a “tight rope.” The fear of deportation increases daily. Our current administration promotes anti-immigrant policies and some of the most impacted communities have been the Dreamers that are protected under the DACA program and the “Tepesianos” that fall under Temporary Protected Status (TPS). Every day I receive calls from people at the brink of despair because our current administration eliminated the TPS programs that had thousands of Central Americans as recipients. We are talking about thousands of people that might be left jobless, separated from their families, and there’s also an impact on the economy for the companies that hire them. Many of their contractors threaten them to fire them if they don’t provide other documentation that extends their program longer. Dreamers finding out the shocking truth that DACA might gradually be eliminated and their renewals are just for one year now. 

 Working in a place like CARECEN, allows me to offer this community help and a sense of hope, even when the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services Department is getting even more rigorous to prevent people from obtaining their permanent residence or citizenship. Our biggest hope is for a change in our current administration after the elections in November. If the Democrats win the presidency, there might be a path to obtain legal status for people with work permits. We work as hard as we can every day because our commitment is with the people we serve. We are also making a statement that we are fighters, and we are here to advocate for those who are busy running the economy of this country. 

Working at CARECEN aligns with my educational goals and beyond… 

Working at CARECEN is meaningful to me because I feel that it connects to real life and all of my academic preparation throughout these years at Antioch. It fits perfectly within my major since it focuses on immigration and the political, economic, and social components within this area. Every day I see the people directly impacted by decisions made in the White House and the importance of politics in our daily lives, even when people think that politics should be left to politicians. Working at CARECEN also provides me with more insight into the population I intend to focus on in my Senior Project and the challenges they face daily once they live in the United States. I am certain about what I want to do once I leave Antioch and enter the professional field. I can see myself working in a place like CARECEN.

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Kensy Zelaya is a first-generation college student, currently an Antioch Miller Fellow at the non-profit organization The 365 Project. She has a self- designed major in International Law, Human Rights and the Political Psychology of Migration.

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