it’s one of the most emotionally painful and physically draining feelings to watch someone, who has been your one constant source of strength for as long as you can remember, slowly decline in health and spirit.
Again, I am the youngest staff member. More importantly, I am the only person of color at my job. There are also no female attorneys, only female assistants. Don’t get me wrong — everyone has been welcoming, warm, and helpful. I have no complaints whatsoever. In fact, I’m ecstatic that I found a job with an immediate full time need for the exact length of time that I’ll be available. I’m also extremely grateful that I can now buy people Christmas presents with my own money 0:) I am, however, excited to break this mold in the coming years. Ladies and gents, “hit the ground running”.
I’m not as old school as the people that raised me. You may be my “elder” and I may respond and interact with you in ways that appear to be normal, but I don’t respect you. Or anything you stand for, to be clear. I do it for those that I would hurt if I were to act otherwise. I have one thing to thank you for. Maybe two. The phrase “don’t bite the hand that feeds you” should, but doesn’t even apply to you. My civility and tolerance for you are bred from my respect for others, though it’s against my will. I don’t really like you…….at all. Thanks for teaching me what qualities I loathe in others.
I walked into an empty conference room. On the 17th floor of a luxurious downtown high rise, all I could see was the view of the downtown San Diego skyline and glimpses of the San Diego bay between the sticks of tall buildings. My coworker and I nearly left, until a woman popped up off the ground, making herself visible to us. She was a client of our organization, and after seeing our staff months ago for a legal orientation presentation, she decided to apply for asylum in the United States. The organization that I intern for was able to find her a pro-bono attorney, providing free legal counsel in her asylum case. As a new staff member, this was my first time meeting her. This was also her first full day of liberation from physical custody by immigration services.
Her story shook me. Of the traumatic cases of human rights abuses I’ve seen, hers were among the most horrific. She left her country, her family, and all she knew behind for the land of opportunity. She sought protection, rights, and freedom. For this, she sat in a detention center for 5 months.
Undocumented immigrants and arriving aliens are commonly placed in detention centers awaiting their court hearings. The backlog of cases makes immigration proceedings persist for months, and often, the plaintiff remains in custody until the Judge rules in their favor or they are deported to their home country. This could mean returning to a place where drug cartels are awaiting their arrival; where opposing political parties are hunting after them; or where gangs are hungry for retribution, recruitment, or extortion.
To top it all off, immigration courts are unlike criminal courts. You aren’t guaranteed a public defender by right. You either represent yourself, or shell out the Benjamin Franklins for legal representation. For many, this means funneling your life savings away in attorney’s fees, at times to untrustworthy and unethical counsel that only seeks to sucker in clients.
Back to this woman: she inspired me. No doubt about it; after being detained for five months, it was her unwavering religious fervor, constant appreciation and recognition of those that fought for her, and her ability to put her past aside and start anew. It was the stories of her dreams of getting married, raising a family, and her simple happiness about seeing the ocean that left me almost speechless. For those who know me, that’s a hard task to accomplish. Instead, she continued to tell my coworker and I about her favorite candy, inner thoughts about her life, and the differences between her home country and the United States. One can only to attempt to mentally occupy her shoes and try to recreate the feeling of being physically extricated from the detention facility and free of mind from legal complications. From my perspective, her resiliency was inspiring, and almost numbing in a sense. To witness someone express their gratitude for the work you do and to see the genuine emotions of relief and solace portrayed in a smile makes it all worth it. Never underestimate the power you hold to change another person’s life. Years ago, this was one of the underlying principles that pushed me in the direction to pursue a career in law. It’s experiences like this that hold my dream intact and fuel my desire to work hard to serve and defend others.
Rest in paradise to one of the sweetest friends I’ve ever had. I’ll keep this short because things like this get me uncontrollably emotional, but thank you. Thank you for keeping it real at all times and reminding me that life isn’t always so serious; that you only have one life to enjoy to its fullest, and if you do it right, once is more than enough. Thank you for being a living embodiment of love and laughter, for giving the best teddy bear hugs, and for always having a smile on your face and sharing it with the world. You’ve taught those around you by example to pursue what you love, and always have your heart open to those around you. I love you and will remember you always, Downey.