2019 Parents Fund Internship Grant Reflections: Monica Norton

Monica Norton

Internship Location: Immigrants First, PLLC

Journal Entry #1:

I’m interning at Immigrants First, PLLC, an immigration and human rights law firm in Manassas, Virginia. Immigrants First, PLLC provides legal representation during all stages of the immigration process or removal defense proceedings. As the Immigration and Human Rights Undergraduate Legal Intern, I will support a team of licensed and experienced immigration attorneys and paralegals as they represent their clients throughout the immigration process. I will be filing out immigration forms, drafting legal documents, writing legal arguments, conducting country condition research, as well as administration tasks, such as filing, copying, printing, mailing, etc.

During my first week at Immigrants First, I worked on a few different projects. On my first day, I was given a client’s file, which included documents such as identification cards, tax forms, marriage licenses, and family photographs. This client was petitioning for his wife’s visa. With the documents in their file, I created a cover letter for the I-130 form (the application for an immigrant visa for a spouse of a U.S. citizen). Throughout the week, I worked on drafting legal letters to various USCIS (US Immigration and Citizenship Services) Centers throughout the country withdrawing Immigrant First, PLLC’s legal representation from certain clients’ cases; an attorney recently left the firm, so we had to notify USCIS that Immigrants First, PLLC no longer represents the clients that former attorney handled. I collected the former attorney’s clients’ information, determined which USCIS service center was processing their case, and filled out a letter for each client.

My first week at Immigrants First, PLLC reaffirmed some things that I previously knew about trends in immigration. First, that a majority of Immigrants First, PLLC’s clients are from Central America, and El Salvador in particular. And second, that a significant number of Immigrants First, PLLC’s cases are asylum cases. The composition of Immigrants First, PLLC’s clients and cases reflects the mass displacement of Central Americans fleeing violence in their home-countries due largely to US intervention. However, I also learned a lot of things that I didn’t know. I learned that removal defense cases (arguing why an individual in removal proceedings should not be deported) also make up a significant number of Immigrant First, PLLC’s cases. I learned that there are different USCIS centers that process different cases, e.g. asylum, certain visas. I also learned the importance of paper in immigration law: for every application or form, there needs to be at least three copies (for the office, for the client, for the USCIS center, and for DHS).

I’m looking forward doing a lot at Immigrants First, PLLC this summer. I want to attend court (both an Individual and Master hearing). I want to observe one of the attorneys in my office’s consultation with their client. I want to conduct country condition research. I want to conduct an in-take consultation with a new client. I’m particularly interested in asylum cases, so I want to work on asylum applications and learn more about the asylum process. Finally, I would love to draft a legal argument arguing why a client should not be deported.

Journal Entry #2:

I have now completed more than half of my internship at Immigrants First, PLLC. Essentially, I perform the tasks of a paralegal. In my day to day work, I support the principal lawyer and her assistant, as well as a team of attorneys in the office.

Since my first week, I’ve done a lot of the things that I really wanted to do. I’ve conducted country conditions research on Guatemala, El Salvador, Mexico, and Honduras. In other words, I find articles on—but not limited to—general violence, gang violence, violence against women, violence against deportees, poor health care, and government corruption in the respective country in order to substantiate the legal argument that our client cannot safely return to their home country.

I’ve observed multiple consultations with the principal attorney and potential clients. During these consultations, the attorney gathers information about the potential client’s personal history, immigration story, and criminal record in order to determine what legal possibilities are available to achieve the client’s immigration goals (this occurs before the potential signs a contract to elect Immigrants First, PLLC to represent them legally). These consultations can be very emotional as more often than not the potential clients have experienced intense trauma in their home country, and/or during migration, and/or after they have arrived in the US. These can also be very difficult as sometimes there are limited or no legal possibilities to help them.

I’ve written a draft of a I-601A waiver cover letter, which is a document that argues why a non-citizen qualifies to waive the 10-year ban for unlawful presence in the US as it would cause extreme hardship to their parent or spouse. Drawing on information from medical and psychological reports and personal declarations, I argued that a mother from El Salvador should not be removed as it would cause extreme emotional, psychological, and financial hardship to her husband and children.

I’ve completed I-589 (asylum) I-765 (employment authorization) legal forms with clients in Spanish. I’ve completed Change of Address legal forms. I’ve put together asylum application packages for clients’ Individual Calendar court hearing, which include the I-589 form, personal identification documentation, family pictures and letters of support, copies of relevant Immigration Judge decisions, and country conditions.

I’m finding that I really enjoy working as a paralegal. I get to draft legal documents, do research, and prepare USCIS and court filings, and the attorney checks my work. In the last half of my internship, there are some things that I would like to do; I hope to attend a Master and Individual Calendar hearing; I hope to observe a court preparation; I hope to draft more legal documents and improve my legal writing skills; finally, I hope to see the outcome of a case that I worked on.

Journal Entry #3:

As my final week at Immigrants First, PLLC comes to a close, I feel a mix of emotions. I’ve really enjoyed my time at Immigrants First, PLLC. I’m very grateful to have been able to work closely with and learn from experienced attorneys and perform the tasks of an actual paralegal.

I’m happy to say that I’ve accomplished everything that I set out to do during my 10 weeks at Immigrants First, PLLC; I attended Master and Individual Calendar hearings; I’ve conducted country condition research; I’ve written a legal brief; I’ve gained experience with court and USCIS filing procedures. While I’ve worked on a lot of different projects during my time at Immigrants First, I’m most proud of having worked on a woman’s asylum case which was granted by the Arlington Immigration Court!

This internship was absolutely public service-oriented; I worked with clients to fill out applications (for work permits, for asylum, etc.) as well as to gather relevant information and documents to create a compelling legal argument. The public service element of this internship had both positive and negative elements. For example, it’s amazing to be able to help someone attain asylum. However, it’s also extremely saddening and frustrating to not be able to help someone achieve their immigration goals through the legal channels given their specific circumstances and current U.S. immigration law.

Additionally, there were some aspects of my internship that I found difficult. First, I grappled with the ethics of working within immigration law; US immigration law and the immigration system in practice is racist and dehumanizing. While I was supporting a firm that advocates for immigrants, my work was not challenging the system itself. Second, the majority of the firm’s clients experienced extreme trauma, and the more trauma a client has experienced, (often times) the stronger their legal case is. I found it difficult to regularly work on cases with domestic abuse and sexual abuse. However, I was also bothered by how the nature of immigration law—the sheer multitude of cases that immigration law firms process—requires you to become numb to accounts of trauma in order to be able to handle multiple cases without experiencing negative emotional and psychological effects.

In sum, this internship was emotionally challenging but also extremely insightful. I feel like I’ve learned a lot about how the immigration system works and how to work with people who have experienced extreme trauma. This experience has led to me to explore careers which support immigrant communities and has further motivated me to strengthen my Spanish skills.