By Katherine Abalos
MICA Project is an agency partner located in St. Louis. For the next few months follow its story here at #JVStories. This month, Jesuit Volunteer Katherine who serves at the MICA Project gives insight into some of the experiences of the immigrant population she has witnessed in her time as a JV there thus far.
Where do I work?
My placement site is called the Migrant and Immigrant Community Action (MICA) Project. It works with individuals and families from over 46 different countries with affordable legal assistance. MICA provides support in applying for documentation to stay in the United States both temporarily and permanently.
Most of the cases that we see include family petitions, removal defense, asylum, refugee, deferred action and naturalization. Our waiting room is always filled with large families and young children. Before starting at MICA, I never expected that a lot of what I would learn would come from conversations with three year olds that speak Spanish much better than I do. Each family’s case brings its own set of conditions and challenges, but overall the clients that we work with share an overwhelming amount of circumstance. This has given me an insight to the ways in which our nation’s system of immigration operates.
Freedom, liberty, mobility…for some
In the United States, we pride ourselves on our nation’s values of freedom and liberty. So much so that we regularly advertise these values to people outside of the U.S. Many clients that MICA works with sacrifice so much to come to the United States to escape poverty, violence and intolerance. Yet, when they arrive in America, the life they are forced to make here does not look much different from the circumstances they have fled.
Some clients share experiences of fear every day. A fear that the government will deport them. At times, this fear is of deportation for acts as simple as forgetting to carry their proof of documentation, or court papers with them everywhere that they go. I forget my house keys and lock myself out more times that I am willing to admit. I can only imagine the stress and fear that is induced with forgetting something at home that could get you locked out of your country.
Where does this fear stem from?
We as individuals contribute to this fear with misinformation about immigrants. Often, we make or we allow others to make false proclamations about the value or the threat of this group of people. We refer to people as “illegal” or “alien” rather than referring to them as “migrants,” “immigrant” or by their names. This manipulates the ways that we treat people and it dictates the ways that the people that we are referring to see themselves. We use words that insinuate that the people we are referring to are somehow different or not worthy of dignity and our respect. Despite the fear that immigrants experience every day—others treat them as though they are the ones to fear.
What happens next?
The immigrant community has a great deal to fear about our nation’s law enforcement and our system needs to improve in many ways; however, the biggest change our nation needs to see is the way that we care for all of the members of our community. Many of our clients struggle to support their families as a result of unlivable wages and the stereotype that they are unwilling to work hard. Our clients and their families would see significant improvements in their lives if employers commit to hiring individuals regardless of their immigration status, assist them in obtaining documentation and pay them appropriate wages.
The next four years are undoubtedly going to be very challenging for people dealing with issues of immigration, but the biggest issue that the immigrant community faces is a lack of community and mutuality with the nation as a whole. This issue will not end with one term of the president and his administration, but luckily, we do not need to wait until Election Day to start making improvements. We need to celebrate people and the cultures that are a part of them. We need to further invest in the safety and wellbeing of each member of our community. We ought to build a community that welcomes, comforts, and defends one another regardless of the nation we were born in.
I have learned so much by being able to work so closely with justice-motivated attorneys at the MICA Project. The MICA Project is unique because it is founded by women and all of the attorneys at the project are women. Beyond that, one of my favorite aspects of MICA is that we are a part of a larger network of immigrant services which makes connecting clients to resources very advantageous. Jessica Mayo, a co-founder and attorney at MICA, is one of the leading voices in the project’s effort to be a positive force of justice in the immigrant community and I am grateful to learn alongside her every day.
Katherine is an Additional Year (AY) Jesuit Volunteer. They served in Santa Clara at Sacred Heart Community Service as a Community Involvement Coordinator in 2015-2016, and now serve at the MICA Project for the 2016-2017 program year. Katherine studied Psychology at Spring Hill College in Mobile, Alabama. Read more by Katherine on her personal blog, Making NonSense Of It All.