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A project of Catholic Charities of Los Angeles, Inc.

General Line: (213) 251-3505

Fax: (213) 487-0986 

1530 James M Wood Blvd, Los Angeles, CA 90015, USA

©2019 by Esperanza Immigrant Rights Project

Designed and created by Luis D Gonzalez for Esperanza Immigrant Rights Project

Martha Izquierdo
Paralegal

What has been your experience with Esperanza?

I worked with ICH before. And before that I volunteered with the previous Pro Bono coordinator.

How long have you been here?

In August, I will have been three years officially working here. Not including my volunteer experience.

And so right now you're doing you’re a Paralegal .What specific area are you working in?

I work with NQRP. So the mentally ill detained population.

How did you get started with working with NQRP?

First, I was an admin assistant at ICH and then one of the paralegals left. I was hesitant at first because I really liked ICH. I really liked the work that we were doing. But I also wanted to move up and grow in terms of learning more in the position. So they had hired someone, but they left after like two or three weeks, and then I took it as a sign that I should go for it.

What are the challenges you face in that position?

We don't actually interact with the clients, mostly the attorney does. And my job is to get supporting declarations from family, criminal records, and medical records. Sometimes I'll help with research for country conditions, if it's a country we haven't done before. Things like that.

So you started as a volunteer here, why did you choose to come to Esperanza and volunteer?

At the time I was doing that, I wasn't very happy. Immigration had been an interest for me, My father's from Cuba, my mother's from El Salvador. So I had come from an immigrant family background. And then I met my boyfriend, and he and his family are undocumented. And that's when I really learned about the struggle. My family fortunately already had documents. By the time I was born, they had a house, so I was very privileged. And then when I saw how my boyfriend and his family were struggling, we would be nervous just when he would drive somewhere. At the time, he didn't have a license yet. So I would always be scared if they would impound his car. He couldn't get an ID. It was hard to get a job. I was very surprised at his sister, how smart she is, and how she was able to put herself through school and is now an RN. So I was very amazed with their resilience and how they're able to accomplish things with these obstacles, and I wanted to get involved and see how I could help the immigrant population.

What has your experience been like working here and volunteering here?

It's been very eye opening. I was unaware of the asylee struggle of Central Americans coming and seeking asylum and everything that they have to go through, just to try and ask for asylum. I was unaware of the asylum process, how difficult it was until I started with ICH, and all the requirements in the law that asylum has. Sometimes the judges can be unbiased when they themselves used to be trial attorneys for DHS. So you really see that in the outcome of cases and the treatment of people as well.

Do you have a particular case that really stands out to you or highlights your work here?

There was this case. He was a man from Central America; he came here when he was young. He was on the path to becoming a teacher. He had already gotten his degree, and he was getting his certification. And then one day, he was shot on the street. And then after that, it was very difficult for him to do his job. And he got depressed, and he started getting into drugs. And then in turn those drugs started him having psychosis and auditory hallucinations and his neighbors accused him of things. He got in trouble with the law because of these hallucinations. He ended up being detained at Adelanto. And all just because of these turn of events in his life. We were able to get him granted 42B (cancelation of removal) and now he has his green card, and he's back with his mother. It was just an amazing story. And I'm glad that Esperanza was there to help him.

How does that make you feel to see the victory at the end?

It makes me feel so good, very empowered. Even though things can seem very depressing and dire. And it's an uphill battle constantly. I always try to latch on to the victories. Because the job can be very depressing and take a toll on your mental health.

What advice would you give somebody who was in your position or was going to start your position here at Esperanza?

I guess, ask yourself why you're doing this work. I think you need to have a true passion and conviction to do this job because it can be very burdensome, and it can take a toll on your mental health. So I would recommend that you really take a step back and reevaluate whether or not this is what this is a job that you want to do.

Did you have a point where you realize that having this position is something you were able to do and wanted to do?

When I started doing intakes at ICH and hearing all these stories, I felt that I had to do something, that I had to use this privilege that I have of being a citizen and of being bilingual. I felt like I had to do something to help even if it was just doing intakes or filling out an application or a change of venue. These people don't have very many people that they can get help from. Usually, there's a lot of predators actually taking advantage of them. So It felt good being able to empower them, and let them know that they can
get help from us. But they can also be confident and fill out their own applications as well.

What is the most challenging aspect of your position currently?

I would say the mental health toll it takes on you. And also, the uphill battle with this administration has made things very difficult. At times, it could feel hopeless, and like, ‘what's the point’? But at the same time, it shows that right now is when we need to fight the hardest, when things are even more difficult.

What have you learned from this entire experience of working with Esperanza?

How broken our immigration system is, I had no idea just how bad it is and biased it is and how many obstacles there are for immigrant coming. That was very surprising. And I've also learned how resilient I am. Even though the job can take a toll on you, I've learned that I can withstand it or take it.

Why is Esperanza’s mission important to you?

Again, we need to protect those that can't protect themselves. I feel Esperanza gives a voice to the immigrant population who's struggling right now. They also empower them. And we're doing work that other organizations are not doing. We’re going to Adelanto and giving free orientation. I imagine before us, they weren’t able to maneuver the complex immigration system. They wouldn’t have done a change of venue and they would have been deported in absentia. And then they wouldn't have gotten the help that they needed. And now we're in that place helping immigrants with simple things that make a difference in their case.

Is there anything you want to add?

I guess, for those who want to get involved, you can get involved. If you're bilingual just translating a document, or coming to ICH and helping people fill out a form or just being there to listen to them, I feel it makes a big difference. You don't have to dive in deep completely; you can start off slowly like how I did and see if you like it and the people will be so grateful for that help.