Another Summer Series Post! Today we hear from Lizette Rojas, a Rising 3L from California who is interning (remotely) with an immigration nonprofit. I love this post because you can see that Lizette has found her legal passion and finds joy in client interaction. While working remotely has created a new normal, even during this time she sees the difference her work and advocacy make in the lives of her clients.
I am currently interning with Oasis Legal Services, a non-profit organization in Berkeley that provides legal services to LGBTQIA+ immigrants. I had always planned on working in criminal or immigration law, but once I began working with Oasis, it solidified my choice in immigration law. I know that the work I am doing at Oasis is effecting change in the lives of my clients. This is my third intern cycle with Oasis. I first began interning with them in summer 2019, then returned in spring 2020 and continued on for the summer 2020 cycle. I keep going back because they do amazing work, they truly care for their clients and want the best for them.
When I first began interning in summer 2019, I was able to experience the affirmative asylum process in its entirety. I was able to meet with my client, fill out and file their I-589 (asylum application and withholding of removal), help them write their declaration, and represent them at the asylum office for their interview. I was able to form a close bond with my client that extended beyond their immigration narrative. I was able to get to know them as I would a friend and learn about their goals and dreams. That was my favorite part because I got to see them grow throughout our time together. They started out shy and timid but over time their confidence blossomed. This made hearing that they received asylum even more worthwhile.
Similarly, during spring 2020 I fulfilled the same tasks, but I was able to attend more asylum interviews and represent more clients. However, during mid-March, COVID-19 cases had risen, and the Bay Area imposed shelter-in-place orders to reduce the impact of the virus. The orders caused a paradigm shift in the office. Our close-knit office consisting of personnel, interns, volunteers, and clients had to transition to remote work via video conferencing platforms, like the ones offered by ON24, or phone. Consequently, asylum interviews were cancelled, and many clients had their cases put on hold by USCIS.
Having to work remotely over the summer comes with its own challenges and requires acclimation. Prior to the pandemic, I was able to associate a face with each client and remedy their discomforts. By stark contrast, it is very difficult to attach a face to a client via telephone calls and it is even more challenging to comfort them remotely. Working from home is a big change, but it is necessary in order to protect each other.
I am not going to lie and say “I love working from home” because it is really hard to do especially within the legal field. It becomes even more difficult to manage if you are a law school student. I really miss going into the office and seeing the staff and clients. I miss sitting down with everyone and conversing about our daily lives. Throughout my time at Oasis, I have been able to see different variations of how asylum work is done and just how much this pandemic has affected the lives of many people, especially for the clients who are applying for asylum.
Everyone is adjusting to this new normal at a different pace and the fact that asylum law is being targeted by the current administration with new proposed rules that will change the asylum process as we know it is not making it any easier. The immigration laws and the process itself are becoming stricter and are impacting people who have waited to apply and who have strong cases. I see how passionate the staff at Oasis is about the work they do and how much they care about their clients. They are strongly advocating for the rights of their clients and I am more than happy to join them in this fight to continue to protect asylees and their rights.
I am truly thankful for my time at Oasis Legal Services. They have taught me so much during my time there and I really feel like I made a difference in the lives of my clients with the work I have done for them. Oasis is an organization that has helped transform the lives of so many of its clients and continues to do such amazing work even in the wake of a pandemic. I love the work they do, and I loved every minute I interned with them.