Impact is running a series of posts on student experiences during their Spring Break Service Trips last month. Find the first post here. These posts were postponed due to the COVID-19 pandemic, but we think the messages are too important to go unshared. We will share our third post tomorrow.
Stay safe everyone, and please reach out to us at firstname.lastname@example.org if we can do anything to help, or if you would like us to consider publishing a guest post on your own experiences during the outbreak.
Spring break is often seen as a way to relax from the rigors of law school and recharge for the sprint to the end of the school year. But for 65 first-year students, Spring Break was a way to get a taste for what working in the public interest field entails. The trips ranged from helping Native American legal offices to aiding asylum-seeking immigrants living in Miami.
In addition to raising their own money to go on these service trips, students were broken up into teams assigned to these different cities, working for different pro-bono organizations.
Four students traveled to Miami to volunteer at Catholic Legal Services in Miami. Below they reflect on their favorite parts of the trip.
Izzy Ercan: I took away several things from the week, most notably seeing the effects of what my legal education can have on someone else’s life. Much of the week in Miami was spent interviewing asylum seekers and providing legal advice at the immigration court. I met so many different people who shared such tragic stories. Over the course of a few hours, I bonded with an immigrant who had fled indigenous persecution in Guatemala and traveled two hours for my meeting with him. As I prepared his legal documents for court, just seeing what it meant to him reassured me that even with my limited legal expertise, I could provide something priceless to someone.
Because we are still only a semester into our legal education, I initially was wary and skeptical of what I could learn and provide my organization during the week. However, because of the constant high demand for pro-bono immigration legal work at the agency, our organization employed us in all different capacities. We were even allowed to research and draft sections of appellate briefs that were being filed. Just having this taste of what it was like to be a working attorney this early into law school was a memorable experience. Finally, I loved working on a team with my friends and work colleagues in the office. The joy that was radiated reminded us of why they do this work, and how they cope with the stresses of the job. Perhaps it helped that we were able to bond outside of the workplace as well, taking in the sights Miami has to offer.
Heather Odell: One of my favorite moments of the trip was doing an I-589 asylum application with one of Catholic Legal Services’ clients. The client’s one-year period to file his asylum application was coming up in just over two weeks, so I knew the importance of getting this work done and doing a quality job. We started from the very beginning, learning as much as we could in a few brief hours about him and his journey to the United States . The most interesting part for me was that as we were asking the narrative questions about the persecution he had faced in Cuba and why he was fearful to return, I was able to begin parsing out which of the facts were most important to highlight as necessary elements of proving an asylum case. I felt honored to hear this man’s story and for the confidence that Catholic Legal Services placed in us to carry out this task almost entirely on our own, with their revisions of our work at the end.
Emily Jordan: Reflecting on this past week at Catholic Legal Services in Miami was one of the most inspiring work experiences I have had. The most memorable moment for me was on the last day (Friday, March 6) when Heather and I were able to complete an I-589 together on our own. We developed a connection with our client, and it was rewarding to help make the legal system a little bit more accessible for them. Prior to law school, I had done some limited work in the immigration system; however, none of my experiences were as hands-on and impactful as this Spring Break trip. The whole trip to Miami was characterized by the real desire to help people, and we were all able to jump into the work at Catholic Legal Services. From the first day, the attorneys assigned us briefs and legal documents to complete, as well as allowed us to sit in on court proceedings, placing substantial trust in us and showing patience and warmth as we learned the process. As a whole, I could not have asked for a better spring break.
Laura Caro Ruiz: I really enjoyed working directly with clients and creating friendships with the attorneys who trusted us to help with high performance work in fast-paced settings. It was an eye-opening experience to work in the “friend of the court” program and quickly gather information from unrepresented, underage migrants immediately before their hearings. Without this program, those children would’ve had to face their immigration judge without an attorney or English-speaking adult by their side. I was also grateful for the opportunity to interview asylum-seekers on my own and complete the petitions on their behalf. Although most of the stories were heartbreaking and this was a great responsibility, I was glad to use my native Spanish to make them more comfortable during the painful process of recounting their tragic timeline of events. Moreover, I enjoyed putting my legal writing skills to practice in helping write an appeal brief for a political opinion persecution asylum case and doing legal research on issues like labor trafficking and T-Visas.