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IRC immigration volunteer continues to serve immigrants from Central America

IRC in Silver Spring volunteer, Ines

Photo: Ines/IRC

I was born in Colombia, lived in Miami briefly as a child and then moved back to the United States when I graduated college with a Civil Engineering degree 22 years ago. I was lucky that my parents had applied for a green card when we lived in Miami and had received it after about a decade later when I was finishing high school. I now live in Bethesda, Maryland with my husband, 3 children and our dog.

In 2017, after almost 2 decades establishing my career in a for profit industry, I felt a strong need to change my purpose to serving others. I applied for many jobs and was able to become a volunteer with the Central American Minors (CAM) program at the IRC in Silver Spring. The CAM program was established to reunite children from the Northern Triangle (El Salvador, Honduras and Guatemala) with their parent(s) already living in the United States with a legal status. Children who qualified as refugees would be able to live with their parent in the United States indefinitely and would receive the same case management support given all refugees resettled in the United States. Children who did not qualify as refugees would receive a 2-year parole status.

It does not take long to develop a love serving this community. They are parents seeking reunification with their children – in many cases now adults themselves being up to 21 years old - after many years of being apart while working hard to provide for them. Soon after joining, the previous Administration closed down the CAM program. I stayed on as the CAM program wound down and in 2019 was happy to volunteer with the International Refugee Assistance Program (IRAP) to let CAM clients know that following a lawsuit, a judge ordered for the program to process applications that had previously been cancelled mid-process.

During the Summer of 2020 I was so happy to find out that I could rejoin the IRC in Silver Spring with the Immigration team as a volunteer. I had met Rachel and Irina when I worked with the CAM Program and admired them for their dedication and willingness to serve our clients with such passion. CAM Parole Clients, who apply to arrive as refugees but were told they did not meet all the requirements, were in special need. Unlike refugees, the CAM parole program does not offer case management and other supports to parolees after they arrive in the US., often preventing parolees from accessing basic documentation they need to establish a new life. The IRC’s immigration department has stepped in to assist parolees in receiving their social security card and employment authorization document.  In the middle of a historic pandemic that has disrupted not only the way that we do business but the way agencies process applications, I am incredibly grateful to work with a population that shows so much appreciation for simple things, like when we can speak to them in their native tongue.

I have a consulting company now and I am grateful that it lets me manage my own time and allows me the space to respond to inquiries, fill out forms, translate intakes and explanations of processes to clients. But one of my favorite things to experience is talking to clients when we have received notices or I have found out from the USCIS page that their application is approved, card has been mailed, etc. Parents often tell me that their son or daughter has been waiting to be able to start working or that they just received their work permit and social security card and are already in the process of sending to their employer!

I often find myself sending a Teams message to the person that I am translating for sharing how moved I am by the client saying during the final questions of a Citizenship intake call: “I will do anything for the United States, as long as it is within the law” – with that anything reinforced by their tone and their voices breaking a little as they say the words.

Every client’s journey is different and special but there is always the recurring theme of gratefulness for the opportunities and safety that the United States offers to those who come to it. I appreciate the opportunity to help them in their process and give thanks to the IRC for providing it.

What I look forward to the most this year is: being able to see my family and friends and give them a hug, the current administration implementing policies that allow our clients to remain in the United States and for them not to have to worry about their futures or being again in danger and agencies returning to reasonable processing times.