My time at Project Citizenship this summer was wonderful. Not only did I learn a lot of practical things about the immigration system and how to navigate it, I met a lot of great people and got to take on a wide variety of projects.
My favorite part of the summer was definitely interacting with all of our clients, whether it was to fill out their citizenship applications in person or to figure out what was happening with their submitted applications over the phone. Usually their questions were more basic, like where their appointment with USCIS was, but sometimes someone would call with a complicated legal question about their case. I grew to like those questions, not because I could answer them, but because I could relay the questions to the attorneys on staff and they’d teach me the answers. This process, which happened a lot over the summer, was part of the reason why I’ve started to re-consider a career in the legal field.
This internship also opened my eyes to how inaccessible our immigration system is to those who would obtain citizenship. There are very little resources available for those who are of low-income, who cannot speak English, and/or who do not possess a legal education. These three characteristics describe most of our clients. The hardest conversations with clients I had at this internship were when I had to tell them that they had to pay $680 out of pocket just to submit the application to USCIS, or when I had to tell them that they weren’t eligible to apply because they couldn’t speak English well enough. USCIS promises fee waivers, but those don’t apply to enough people, and are difficult to obtain. USCIS also promises that basic English is good enough, but the questions asked at interviews are often beyond that level, encompassing a wide range of topics such as medical history, immigration history, criminal background, and family matters. This system is difficult, and to my eyes, unnecessarily so. Recognizing that helped me to also recognize that I may be suited toward advocacy work, where I can not only help those who are currently going through broken systems, but also push for those systems to become better.
Overall, I really enjoyed my experience at Project Citizenship, and my time there taught me more about myself and what I may enjoy doing in the future as a career.
Written by Cristine Oh, BC Class of 2017