The whole point of this year was so that I could give my time and efforts in a physical act of sacrifice and dedication to the refugee community. Not only am I gaining practical experience, I am also learning humility in spades. The stories that I hear and the people I interact with remind how blessed I am, but also how much I have to learn from those around me.
Lutheran Refugee and Immigration Center is the only refugee resettlement agency in South Dakota. Hundreds of refugees a year pour into the state, which obviously has a huge impact on the community. In the past year, in Sioux Falls, over 400 refugees were resettled, and in a town of 160,000, that actually makes a huge difference!
I work mainly with those refugees who have been in the country for a year or longer, and are eligible for their green cards. This is an amazing opportunity to finally get a piece of plastic that symbolizes stability in their lives. No more fleeing from corrupt governments or individuals because of their ethnicity or beliefs. While living in America may not be smooth sailing, quite the contrary actually, at least they are safe. While I may be cynical sometimes of our government and Americans in general, I have found a new appreciation for the freedom we have, while people are fleeing for their lives across the world, dreaming for a freedom like ours.
While a lot of my job is scheduling, filing, making phone calls, copying, and mailing notices to clients, I also get a lot of time to meet with the clients one on one. They come with random questions about their applications, or whether or not we would be able to help them. It's my favorite part. I love interacting with these people, and it's really shown me that being an immigration lawyer is where my heart is.
When talking to the lawyers, I love hearing their success stories. A client they never thought would pass the written part of the citizenship was sworn in as a US citizen today. A family that has been waiting for their father to come to the United States for a decade has finally been reunited. Our Immigration law does not have much room for sympathy, so it takes a lawyer to be the sympathetic one to the client, and then turn around and present it in a functional, reasonable way so an immigration office would approve the case . It's a taxing job, but one of the most rewarding.
I also get to travel once a month to a small town, about 2 hours from here, that has suddenly seen an increase in Karen refugees, the same ethnic minority I stayed with during my village stay in Thailand. Huron, a small town of about 12,000, has received hundreds of Karen refugees a year, most of them working in Dakota Provisions, a turkey processing plant that distributes gourmet sliced turkey (eaten a turkey sandwich at Panera Bread? thats where their turkey is from!). I got a tour of the kill floor, and man, am I glad that our clients willingly, and happily, do the jobs that most Americans shy away from. A job is another symbol of stability in their lives.
|Me getting a tour of Dakota Provisions|
The impact that the refugees have had on this small town is amazing. So much so that 60% of their kindergarten class is made up of ESL students. It's amazing that this town is suddenly coming in contact with such diversity, but also poses a challenge, especially when it comes to the resources needed. One of the lawyers and I get to go once a month to help the refugees with their green card and citizenship applications, which has been one of my favorite parts of working at LSS so far.
I am going to leave you with this prayer that I found especially meaningful, and have taped it on my mirror to remind me why I do what I do.
"You have made me known to friends who I knew not. You have given me seats in homes not my own. You have brought the distant near and made a brother and sister of the stranger.
I am uneasy at heart when I have to leave my accustomed shelter; I forget that there abides the old in the new and there also You abide.
Through birth and death, in this world or in others, where You lead me, it is You, the same, the one Companion of my endless life, who links my heart with bonds of joy to the unfamiliar
When one knows You, then alien there is none, then no door is shut. O grant me my prayer that I may never lose the bliss of the touch of the one in the play of the many"
- Friends who I know not The Heart of God: Prayers of Rabindranath Tagore
And on a less serious note....
And on a less serious note....