Chief of Staff
Office of U.S. Congressman Luis V. Gutierrez
Susan Collins currently is the chief of staff for U.S. Congressman Luis
Gutierrez, the senior member of the Illinois delegation in the U.S. House of
Representative and a champion of immigration reform.
One of her first tastes of the immigrant experience came as a Jesuit Volunteer
in the border town of Brownsville, Texas, working in a trailer outside a
family detention center.
“When I first started, the detention center was like an airplane hangar with
a cement floor, cots completely wide open, very refugee like,” she said.
“The whole reason they were in there is they had a minor with them when
crossing the border. It could be a 20-year-old brother with a 16-year-old
brother, a mom with a young daughter. My project served this population
She joined Jesuit Volunteer Corps following a year of service in 1989
in Nicaragua through a Georgetown University program. There, she
helped women in a small mountain village start their own bread-baking
In Texas she worked to reunite family members and on asylum cases.
“It was really exciting and very rewarding,” she said. “You were out in the
middle of nowhere and you were their only hope for any kind of help at all.”
She lived in South Texas for more than a decade, working with immigrant
“I had a lot of experience doing direct service to immigrants,” she said.
“Working with recently arrived immigrant families you get so frustrated.
They are so limited in their legal status it felt like a huge blockade to
being helpful to them.”
In 2001 she applied and was accepted for a fellowship with Gutierrez.
“He’s the one I sought out,” she said. “His inner-city Chicago
constituents are practically all Latino and he is very well known
nationally if you work on immigration and especially if you speak
She went from fellow to legislative assistant to chief of staff.
“It was a weird mix for me working for progressive grassroots
nonprofits to come to a job on Capitol Hill,” she said. “It’s incredible
when you’re in a position of power like this. We haven’t achieved
legalization for the undocumented but we have achieved legal status
for DREAMers (undocumented immigrants brought to the United
States as children) and legal status for parents of U.S. citizens. I’m in the
total thick of that.”
As Rep. Gutierrez’s chief of staff, Collins is responsible for the day-today
operations of his office, including mentoring and supervising staff
based in Chicago and Washington, D.C. She is the principal point of
contact between Rep. Gutierrez and other members of Congress, federal
agencies and his constituents in Illinois’ fourth congressional district.
She also helps direct his legislative agenda, including the successful
effort passing the DREAM Act in the House in 2010.
Collins also works to educate congressional offices and community
groups throughout the country on how to successfully defend families
and individuals against deportation, and has personally intervened
in hundreds of individual immigrant and deportation cases on Rep.
Collins said that Jesuit Volunteer Corps was “absolutely central” to her
interest in working on and championing immigration issues. The skills
she developed living in a Jesuit Volunteer community have helped to
make her a better policy maker and policy thinker, she said.
“There is no other thing in my life that set me on this course than my
two years of volunteer work and Jesuit Volunteer Corps was right in
that,” Collins said.