Inspired by the experience of my immigrant parents, this semester I completed an internship at Hernandez Immigration Law (HIL) in Downtown Walla Walla. Understanding the weight of the work I would be handling, I anticipated very high expectations from my supervisors. Although this was still true, I was lucky that HIL offered a unique experience that allowed me to easily immerse myself within the law office. Wendy Hernandez, HIL’s head attorney, organized a passionate team of individuals that have personal experience with the immigration process and/or are locals familiar with the experiences of Walla Walla’s immigrants. Knowing this, clients feel more comfortable and confident about the assistance they receive at HIL throughout the rigorous process. By being part of this team I, too, found a sense of comfort and pride in knowing that we were offering the highest quality of work that we could. Another notable aspect was the office culture. Wendy explained that she wanted the office to be a learning space for both interns and her team of paralegals. In order to promote an interactive culture, the office is maintained in an open space. Other than the private rooms used to discuss a client’s case during a consultation, there are no cubicles or separate offices that divide the paralegals or Wendy. Because of this, I was able to freely ask questions about the firm’s practices and explore different types of cases.
Since Walla Walla has a large Hispanic immigrant population, I found comfort in being exposed to Spanish-speaking clients that reminded me of home back in LA. However, I realized that I had never heard Spanish in such sad and frightened tones. Starting this internship I was excited to work with a team that made a positive impact in the lives of marginalized groups, but the reality of the difficulties for immigrants to gain legal status became apparent quickly. As I began to understand immigration policy, I found that it is not uncommon to receive clients that are ineligible to apply for legal status. This is usually because clients might have been charged with a misdemeanor or might have already been detained by immigration prior to filing their case. If eligible, the process is long and highly demanding which sometimes dissuades clients from completing it. Part of the application requires proper documentation that proves presence in the US for specific dates that the applicant must scramble to look for. Although there are application waivers that could help ease some of the financial burden of the process, there are still some clients that cannot afford to pay the attorney or at least delay the process further while they save up that money.
Delving into these cases can be emotionally draining; however I continue to appreciate the work that is being done by HIL. By starting her own law firm in Walla Walla, Wendy has made it more accessible for local immigrants to receive help. In order to minimize the burdens of applying, Wendy does her best to be flexible with fees through payment plans. HIL goes out of its way to maximize the amount of immigrants receiving legal status. I am humbled by the HIL team that continues offering a sense of security in the lives of those who already come from backgrounds fraught with adversity. Although the recent election of Donald Trump further complicates immigration policy, the realities of immigrants remain difficult. Therefore, I look forward to continuing my work at HIL in seeking new ways to assist US immigrants.