Julissa Granados, a Spark college student, was awarded a $4,500 Spark internship stipend over the summer of 2022. The stipend is offered to a small group of college students who secure low or unpaid internships to cover living, travel, and school expenses while interning. We believe that internships and other research and job shadowing opportunities help students build skills and connections needed for their career after college. Read about Julissa’s summer internship experience below.
As an intern at the International Rescue Committee (IRC) in Silver Spring, MD this summer, I had the privilege of serving in the Immigration Department and for the Central American Minor (CAM) Affidavit of Relationship Program. The IRC Immigration Program provides legal services to refugees, asylees, and other vulnerable people. They provide representation before the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) agency and assist with the filing of applications and petitions, including citizenship and green card applications, refugee petitions, and more.
To prepare for managing client intakes and drafting applications, I first trained by observing my supervisor conduct interviews with current and prospective clients. Once I gained experience, I began to monitor the program’s telephone line and take on a caseload of clients. Individuals were able to call to request help, ask questions, receive updates on their case status, and share news with us. I was assigned clients from previous interns in order to continue their cases and also received my own clients in a variety of immigration situations.
After conducting intake calls with clients, I would email them a list of required documents needed to complete their applications and submit them to USCIS. If a client was applying for citizenship, I would send them additional study materials and information they needed to know in order to prepare for their interview. As the client’s USCIS interview date approached, the client would be scheduled for a preparation interview with our Department of Justice Accredited Immigration Services Program Manager.
I served as an English-Spanish interpreter for the preparation interviews in cases where the client needed to take the exam and interview in their native language (Spanish). We would explain the expectations of USCIS and answer any questions they had. The client would then send us an update after their interview. In the case that they received their US citizenship, we would ask for their Certificate of Naturalization, or if they did not pass their exam, we would help them prepare for the next one or inform them of any other steps they could take.
Due to my Spanish-speaking abilities, I was selected to work closely with the Central American Minor (CAM) Program. This program is a legal pathway through which children facing persecution or danger in El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras can reunite with parents who are lawfully present in the United States. I enjoyed working closely with clients who shared a similar background to me and felt comfortable speaking with them in Spanish, as I am a first-generation Salvadoran American and grew up in a bilingual household. My experience working in the legal clinic and as a member of a bilingual Salvadoran American household has provided me with greater knowledge and understanding of the legal requirements of the USCIS process and the needs of the clients.
My experience at the IRC taught me the importance of communication, patience, and valuing different perspectives. In the case of a hybrid workplace, communication takes on new forms and oftentimes requires scheduled meetings and end-of-day reminders. Since other interns and staff also monitored the telephone line, they received requests and questions from clients that they did not work with. In these situations, we reached out to the team or to the person member in charge of their case. As my internship came to an end, I created a list of my clients and described where they were in their application process. I shared this list with my supervisor to pass on to incoming interns.
I also learned that every client is different and has different expectations. Therefore, it is important to approach them with patience and full transparency. Rather than assuming what they need or potentially giving them information that may not be precise, I often wrote down their requests to discuss with my supervisor or their case-assigned team member. I would then call them back with an update. I tried my best to be understanding of their eagerness to get an update once their case had been filed. I know that it is not easy to wait for several months or years to receive a notice from USCIS and although we did not have access to their case once it had been filed, I tried my best to listen and provide an update.
Spark the Journey’s internship grant provided me an opportunity to level the competitive playing field. Students who can afford to take unpaid internships are often able to gain experiences to develop their skills, improve their resumes, and develop relationships with mentors and contacts who can assist in their career. Students without the means often cannot access these things. This summer, I was able to enjoy my experience and pursue an opportunity to work in a nonprofit environment that cares for marginalized people while still meeting my personal financial needs. The experience has encouraged me to pursue a career in the social sector. I look forward to continuing to gain skills and experiences to allow me to advocate for others.