Our Summer Series continues! This series highlights different Latina students and law grads as they embark in their summer jobs and/or bar prep all across the country. We hope to provide a variety of work experiences, options for a healthy work-life balance, and general motivation through different guest contributors to help you to take charge of your summer and professional goals! Today we hear from Celina, a rising 3L, who shares her unique summer experience as a Fellow working on Trans Asylum cases:
My name is Maria Celina Marquez and I am a rising 3L at The George Washington University School of Law in Washington, DC. This summer, I am interning in DC at Benach Collopy LLP as the inaugural Fellow for Trans Asylum. For the first time, the firm has partnered with a non-profit, Whitman-Walker Health Legal Services, an organization that works closely with the LGBTQ community and offers a multitude of services, and is taking on the cases of trans individuals, primarily from Latin America, who are seeking asylum from their home countries due to persecution based on their gender identity. As a Latina, and an ally and advocate for the LGBTQ community, this fellowship has allowed me to combine both my personal and professional passions and it has been tremendously rewarding.
Last summer, I wrote a blog post for Latinas Uprising describing my experience at Texas Rio Grande Legal Aid (TRLA), where I had the opportunity to work on cases in a wide range of practice areas, including housing, family, and immigration law. Though I didn’t know it at the time, my experiences there would really shape the decisions I made over the course of the next year. TRLA introduced me to passionate human beings, attorneys and law clerks alike, all advocating for the rights of the indigent and underrepresented, and I was eager to continue meeting like-minded individuals. I especially fell in love with the practice of immigration law and enrolled in my first Immigration class when I returned to GW Law in the fall. I learned about the theory and practice from a brilliant professor, whose Immigration Clinic I went on to apply and work for in the spring. I continued learning and meeting clients, working on my own cases and even appearing in court. My time at the Clinic was so special that I decided to enroll again for this upcoming fall. During the spring semester, I applied for the fellowship.
My experience at the Benach Collopy has been rewarding for a number of reasons. Though I’ve known for some time that I want to work in the public sector, it has been exciting and beneficial to work for a private firm and see its inner workings and dynamic. This fellowship has been a marriage of the two worlds, private and public, given that I am working exclusively on pro bono asylum cases. I’ve learned that it is possible to combine a variety of interests in one’s practice. In additions, while the immigration law practices I have learned have been invaluable, I have learned the greatest lessons from working closely with the clients.
Last summer, when I first became interested in immigration law, Donald Trump made incredibly hurtful and racist comments about the Latinx immigrant population. His now infamous speech strengthened my convictions about the path I was about to embark on. This June, only a few short weeks after beginning my fellowship, 49 individuals were killed at a nightclub in Orlando in the worst mass shooting the country has ever seen. It was a hate crime aimed at the same demographic whose persecution is so pervasive in Latin America that this fellowship was created as a response to the demand of trans asylum seekers. As a human being, I shared the devastation of the entire nation. But as an aspiring immigration attorney, I wasn’t sure how I would be able to reassure the clients that they would be safe here in the United States, able to live a life free of violence and judgment. However, throughout my interactions with the clients, they continued to express their love, positivity, and gratitude, and they continued to fight and bravely work towards their goal. Through the unity of the LGBTQ community and the strength of the immigrant population, I learned that there is no room for cynicism if we are to continue fighting. The spirit and the optimism in the aftermath of such a tragedy further fueled my passion for this line of work—I found strength in the strength of the remarkable clients I have the privilege of working with.
Last summer, I wrote about the insecurity I felt during the first year of law school. But during my second year, I found that it can be truly empowering to find individuals who believe in similar causes. Last year, I’m not sure that I would have felt capable of taking on the challenge of this fellowship, but after finding something I firmly believed in and mentors to encourage me along the way, I was ready to take on the opportunity to work hard, learn more, and expand my worldview. I’ve learned a great deal about trans and immigration issues, and I’ve met wonderful people along the way that I am humbled and grateful to know and learn from. I’ve learned that every experience is an opportunity for growth and we should be open to every possibility.
More than anything, I’ve learned that there is still a lot of work to be done. More than ever, we have to continue working and educating ourselves about the issues that afflict our society in order to be the kind and accepting country that so many have left their homes in search of. As my Clinic professor always says, “luchar hasta vencer.”