Fellowship Location: USA (Los Angeles)
Esperanza Immigrant Rights Project
Already a month has gone by since I began my time here at Esperanza. The experiences and lessons that I have taken away from this organization have already greatly surpassed the expectations that I held before joining. Looking back and rereading my first blog post before starting this position, I began to realize how naive I was. How could I possibly hope to understand and even fathom our daunting, discriminatory legal immigration system? Beyond the already complex and difficult structure that it beholds, the current administration, particularly in recent weeks with threats of raids and new policies that physically prevent asylum seekers from even entering the States, presents greater obstacles by the week. I now fear listening to the news, as it now directly influences the work that I am a part of and the community that I am surrounded in.
Two weeks ago, I had the privilege of joining one of our attorneys at immigration court. That session was particularly for children migrants, and there were roughly ten children under the age of eighteen who were attending. I remember being so excited on the way to court. I imagined a dramatic performance where the attorney would fight on behalf of these children and eventually secure their residency and asylum for the United States. Tragically, what I actually witnessed was far different.
In removal proceedings, there are two types of hearings: a master calendar hearing, where the judge essentially confirms the date for a merits hearing, and the merits hearing, where the substantive case is made to the judge for asylum or similar status to reside in the US. What I attended that day was a master calendar hearing, and I remember being shocked as the judge announced that she found each child removable by law. Each child in that room–terrified and in fear of their lives in another foreign country where they cannot adequately speak the language–was found to be deportable.
I was stunned by my surprise. The premise of each case, after all, is that these children are deportable, unwanted, illegal. I knew this to be true before I entered the courthouse. This is what I had signed up for and what I had so eagerly looked forward to, right?
I knew that this would be a difficult and draining battle but nonetheless, putting faces–especially the faces of terrified and shaken children–to the cause that I would be fighting for made everything so real. It became more than an internship, more than a fellowship. Lives were on the line. These children, mostly from the Northern Triangle region of Latin America, are not just economic migrants in search for a more bountiful life. They are refugees in search for survival, and we are their last defense.