by Cecilie Kern
Cecilie is a Loretto Volunteer serving as an Immigration Paralegal at CARCEN, the Central American Resource Center, in Washington, DC.
Because of the generosity and support of the Loretto community, I have had the opportunity for the past seven months to serve as an immigration paralegal at CARECEN, a non-profit organization that responds to the needs, rights and aspirations of Latino immigrant families. Through my work, I see every day the mutual relationship between social justice and community.
CARECEN, the Central American Resource Center, was established in 1981 to meet the needs of refugees fleeing violence and conflict in Central America. The organization provides immigration legal services and dispute resolution for housing issues. It is also part of their mission to advocate on behalf of legislation to support and advance the civil and human rights of Latino immigrants. Thus CARECEN engages in both strands of social justice—direct and personal social outreach and more global social action.
There is no typical client at CARECEN. Each one brings a unique set of circumstances—the asylum seeker from El Salvador, separated from his wife for thirty years, the new U.S. citizen, waiting to be reunited with his children. Each has a unique personal story. What they share is resiliency and determination. In immigrating to the United States, they have all had obstacles to overcome—economic hardships, linguistic barriers, cultural disorientation. They have crossed borders and left loved ones. Frequently they have been through months and years of filing paperwork and meandering through an exhausting bureaucratic process. But because the goal of citizenship is important to them, they persevere. In response to their resolve, it is my goal to treat each of them with dignity and professionalism.
My particular job at CARECEN involves screening clients and helping them execute legal forms that will lead to work permits or citizenship. But the impact of my work extends further. When I assist a woman to obtain citizenship, I am helping her to realize her potential in society. She in turn, can help her family and contribute in a more complete way to her community. Thus, the tools of social justice are being used to build up community.
I am the product of community, too. It is the support of community that allows me to help others. Teachers and professors have helped me attain language skills. My parents have modeled empathy. My wonderful housemates, Caroline, Cathy, Catherine and Alexis and others in the Loretto Community, have been there to encourage and challenge me. The staff at CARECEN has patiently mentored me, so I can help others navigate the immigration process. And there is God, who has given me gifts and aptitudes and has asked that I use them to welcome the stranger.
And so, the process comes full circle. The collaboration and interconnectedness I have experienced in community has helped to strengthen my values and skills. In turn, I can employ these values through social outreach in a way that will help others contribute to their communities. They key is turning our gifts toward the service of others.
The values of the Loretto Community include simple living, spirituality, community and social justice. But these values are not isolated. Instead, they are intertwined. In my work at CARECEN, I see every day the relationship between working for social justice and the empowerment of community. I feel blessed to be able to contribute the gifts I have been given, just as others have done for me.
In Their Own Words
We invite you to get to know Loretto Volunteers and the program here. Volunteers introduce themselves and reflect on their experiences.