"Searcher, there is no road. The road is made by walking."
The organization Make the Road New York, where I worked during the past summer, takes its name and its mission from the above quote from Spanish poet Antonio Machado. MRNY is a very active Hispanic community organization with over 10,000 members who participate in everything from worker's rights campaigns to citizenship workshops to English classes. One of the many services that MRNY provides is legal services, and this past summer I had the opportunity to help the organization develop it's relatively new immigration/removal defense practice.
Immigration law is quite a hot topic and practice area right now, and there is a staggering, overwhelming need among low-income immigrant communities for these services. This is an already incredibly vulnerable and marginalized population, and MRNY's team of organizers and lawyers take pride in working together to provide "one-stop shop" assistance for the Hispanic immigrant communities of New York.
My role in all of this was to be a legal advocate for our members who are either in immigration removal proceedings or have an outstanding deportation order: essentially, the emergency cases. One of the strange ironies of US immigration law is that it is often the tragedies in people's lives that make them eligible for some form of immigration relief that allows them to remain in the United States. Victims of crimes or trafficking can receive U-Visas or T-Visas, respectively. Children who have been abandoned or abused by their parents can receive Special Immigrant Juvenile Status. Those who have been driven from their home countries by brutal persecution receive asylum. Much of my summer was spent simply listening to our members tell their stories, working with them to find a way that something positive could come from the difficulties they've encountered and looking for any possible basis for them to stay in the United States with their families.
|MRNY members at a worker's rights rally in Union Square. July 2012.|
But it was also filled with lots of joy. MRNY is first and foremost a member-based community center, so every day there are meals in the communal kitchen, bachata and reggaeton blasting on the radio, and events from open-mic nights to dance parties for LGBTQ youth. At a major worker's rights rally in July, to which MRNY sent busloads of staff and members, the common refrain during the march was "El pueblo unido, jamás será vencido" "The people united will never be defeated." MRNY does an excellent job of fostering this sense of community and unity, which helps the members feel supported and for the attorneys makes the ups and downs of the legal work much easier to handle.
It was also a historic summer to be involved in immigration advocacy because of the new deferred action policy for undocumented youth announced on June 15. The policy allows undocumented people under the age of 30 who were brought to the US before age 16 and graduated high school here or served in the US military to remain in the United States (though it does NOT confer legal immigration status) and apply for work permits. In addition to my casework, I was able to help with workshops to familiarize and prepare people for the new policy. The response from our members and the immigrant community at large was overwhelming. It has been over 25 years since the last amnesty law. Even though the new policy offers nothing close to amnesty, the response showed the strength and size of the undocumented community, and how eager people are to be recognized and live a full, uninhibited life out of the shadow of "illegality."
It was an incredibly rewarding summer- I'm grateful to the amazing MRNY staff, and most importantly to all my clients who taught me so much and made the work meaningful. ¡Gracias a toda la gente de SHCNY!