When I first started at CWS Jersey City in late May, I had no idea what the office did. I thought CWS resettled refugees (though I barely understood what that meant) and did not know asylees were eligible for cash assistance. Working at the office for the past two months has been a steep learning curve! After spending the first two weeks training, I learned that there are eight agencies accredited to provide resettlement services and that the executive branch determines the number of refugees admitted each year. I began to understand the broad outlines of how funding works, with money trickling down from DHS to ORR to NJOR and eventually to our office and our clients. I realized the reason our office no longer resettles refugees and solely provides RCA and now matching grant to asylees is because the Trump administration drastically lowered the refugee cap. (from 110,000 in 2017 to 30,000 in 2019)
All of this information was extremely valuable and it better equipped me to talk about contemporary political issues. But, as everyone at the office predicted, I really started learning once I began working with clients. Reviewing case files and familiarizing myself with case notes taught me the scope of the services the CWS provides — everything from talking to landlords about broken dishwashers to furnishing apartments to workshops on community health protection. Going to social security and welfare showed me the patience it requires to constantly navigate these services. Looking for housing, riding public transportation, applying to jobs and going to the supermarket with clients gave me a window into the incredible tenacity, bravery and courage it takes to restart your life in a new place where everything is unfamiliar. Helping clients with their resume’ and cover letters showed me how much they’ve been through and what they sacrificed to make it here. Spending time with clients was by far the best part of the job.
In addition to everything I’ve learned from clients the most powerful aspect of working at CWS has been seeing staff members go above and beyond. From visiting clients’ friends still in detention to running out for rotisserie chicken after hearing it was a client’s favorite food, to waking up early to wait in line at social security and staying late to help someone pick up shifts, you have all shown me what it means to be passionate about your work.
My family has been in the United States for three generations. But talking to clients about their memories of home, about missing family and how difficult it is to start over reminded me of talking to my Grandma about her father who came here alone as a 12 year old. Hearing about religious and political persecution demonstrated the universality of immigrant stories and, as cliche as it sounds, showed me first hand the responsibility we have as individuals and as a country to provide welcome and support immigrants since it truly could be anyone.
I often read the news on the way to work. It is easy to be cynical, disillusioned and heartbroken by relentless, awful stories. But then I arrive at the office to find Pierre talking about soccer and showing me videos of dancing or Mariam excited about her new job as a teachers’ aid or Nana smiling quietly with his headphones in, and I feel absurd and self-indulgent being anything but hopeful and motivated.
Interning at CWS has reaffirmed how much both social and legal services matter, not just for refugees and asylees but for everyone. Working in this field is definitely the most valuable thing I could spend my life doing! I am so grateful that I got to spend my summer here. And I want to come back! Thank you all.
Even though I am the child of asylum seekers from Central America, I did not truly see the difficulties that came with starting a new life in America . My siblings and I were born many years after my parents had already figured out their lives and were no longer wondering what they would do next. When I was younger, I was ignorant to the fact that being forced to leave your own country was not as easy as my parents made it seem. As I got older, I of course found out how difficult it is to journey into the unknown.
When I started my internship at the Church World Service office in Jersey City, I got to see first hand the beginning of many clients’ journeys in the United States. I learned the amount of patience, resilience and courage that is needed to do what so many of our clients did. There are so many new things to learn when someone arrives to the United States such as using public transportation, English, and joining the workforce which makes it all the more overwhelming. I was able to see how the office worked together to fill the clients’ needs and provide a strong foundation for their new life. It was beautiful to see the progression of our clients’ when they first came compared to later when they were more independent and confident in themselves.
In addition, I learned how the government affects resettlement agencies. Our office no longer resettles refugees due to our current administration. I am more cognizant of how important it is to speak up for those who are overlooked. During my time here, I have gained practice in using my voice for what I strongly believe in and not thinking about myself as an individual but as part of a community that has the power to bring change. I was able to talk to our congressional leaders and attended a protest for detention centers, things I never imagined myself doing. Not only was I able to see the process after our clients were granted asylum but also saw the complexity of being granted asylum status that almost always included many months in the detention centers.
All in all, this was a very humbling and an eye opening opportunity. Although they probably do not know it, hearing their stories and following them along their journey was a valuable experience for me. I am thankful to learn from such a knowledgeable and passionate team and I had the pleasure of working with people who share the same drive of making America a more welcoming place.