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College Intern Witnesses Immigrants' Reality

Posted on July 28, 2017 by Catholic Charities Admin  |  Share

Documents Immigrants’ Hopes & Fears

Ashley Jacks, a Catholic Charities summer intern and student from Elon University in North Carolina, gives her eye-opening first-person account of a recent Catholic Charities “Know Your Rights” immigration forum held in Poughkeepsie, NY.

By Ashley Jacks

As a student interning with Catholic Charities in New York City this summer, I have had the opportunity to learn about the amazing lengths Catholic Charities goes to help those in need. I go to school in the small town of Elon, North Carolina—which is home to just over 10,000 residents—so being in a city that’s home to more than 8 million is mind-blowing at times.

Road Trip to Poughkeepsie

Last Friday, July 21, I was able to take a road (actually train) trip up to Poughkeepsie to observe a free immigration consulting event held by Catholic Charities Community Services at St. Mary’s School. This event provided services and resources to immigrant families, including a training session to ensure that immigrants knew their rights in case they come face-to-face with Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).  There were also safety planning strategies, guidance on how to report and protect against fraud and individual legal consultations to assess potential relief options.

So Much to Lose – or Gain

I could almost feel the tension in the air as immigrants with so much to lose or gain received help, many for the first time, from professional attorneys and support staff.  It was such a contrast from the feeling I got as I watched these immigrants’ little children, playing and laughing in the corner under their parents’ watchful eyes along with Catholic Charities staff and volunteers.

Organized, Efficient, Compassionate

I was impressed by the number of legal support staff and volunteers from the community who ensured this clinic ran smoothly. The clinic served 70 clients throughout the day. Nearly all registered beforehand, as walk-ins would not be guaranteed an appointment.

When a client entered, they were taken over to a table where a volunteer and Catholic Charities attorney would go through a screening process and inform the client of his or her options. The client would then visit with an attorney and go over his or her options in greater detail and wrap up the appointment  by receiving a legal resources packet that explained what immigration relief options he or she may have, if any.  For those who were found to have relief, a follow-up appointment was scheduled.

Stats – and Success!
  • Nearly 40 people found eligible for immigration benefits
  • Over 20 follow-up appointments scheduled for legal assistance

This was thanks to 33 Volunteers who:

  • Donated 107 hours of their time
  • Partnered with nine Catholic Charities attorneys
  • Served 70 immigrants
Volunteer’s Testimonial

“I am so impressed with the work you are doing, and really feel great about having participated in it,” said Antonia Wilson, one of the volunteers.  “As a screener, I learned about clients' stories and situations, and in all cases was very impressed by the information provided to clients by the screening attorneys.  They were able to suggest potential steps that clients were told about that they might be able to take revealed a great depth and detail of knowledge on the part of the attorneys - I listened and learned a lot.  With so many people to handle, the flow of clients was incredibly well organized, efficient and compassionate.  I would not hesitate to volunteer for other suitable events with Catholic Charities, and hope to do so in the future.  Thank you for your amazing work.”

From a Small Town to a Big City

This event was eye-opening to the realities immigrants in and around the city might face, but it was refreshing to see how dedicated Catholic Charities and those who partner with them are in ensuring immigrants are able to access free legal services in their communities with compassion.

Coming from a small town to a big city, I am thankful to have been able to observe this clinic. I know this visit will remain with me and will help me see immigration throughout the country in a new light.