It’s been awhile since I’ve written any sort of update on here (though I have written a few posts through the Book of Fellows and on my Facebook page.) A lot has happened since February 1, and at the same time, not too much has changed. I thought I would give you one last update, one week before I finish my two-year term of service as a Global Mission Fellow US-2 and two weeks before I move home to Ohio for the rest of the summer, before I start law school.
During the past several months, work was full of clinics, court dates, and client appointments. We also held many free legal screenings with a CLINIC grant, including a couple through the Mexican and Salvadoran consulates. Lots of folks want to know their rights under these uncertain times under the current administration.
Unlike all of my previous blog posts, during which nothing really happened, despite all of the hours and forms and applications and effort put in, this time I actually have good news:
– In February, I presented a woman with her green card after a successful U-Visa adjustment.
– In May, the asylum application of a different client–a 13-year-old rape victim, sister, 7th grader, fellow animal lover, and future doctor–was recommended for approval. I had interpreted for her *3 hour* asylum interview in early April, and I am filled with joy that–contingent on a background check, etc.–the US has decided to protect her from the persecution she faced in her home country.
– This past week, I presented a 17-year-old, who was also granted asylum, with her work permit. I interpreted for her asylum interview about a month ago, and I am so grateful that she will be able to stay in the US.
I am also reminded that “individuals seeking asylum are three times more likely to win their case if they have an attorney,” meaning many people lose winnable cases simply because they do not have access to legal representation. I am grateful to be able to work with our clients and to help extend free immigration legal services to low income immigrants through South Florida Justice For Our Neighbors.
The immigration system is slow and broken, and we should really fix it.
On the advocacy front, the Florida Conference passed the Drivers’ License resolution I wrote (with others’ edits, etc.) for the 2016 Annual Conference (one year later). Hooray! I still wish that this was last year, so that there would actually be time for me to really do something about it/use it to advocate on the state level.
In addition to visiting law schools (when they paid for it), talking to current students and professors, interviewing for scholarships, going to cocktails, etc., and trying (largely unsuccessfully) to make a decision (very unusual for me to have this problem, I know), I have been having as many adventures as possible before I leave Florida on July 6!
I spent most of February feeling really excited about my neighbor’s taco truck and the dogs who hung out outside of it. The taco truck only lasted for a couple of months, and then it disappeared. I was sad. A friend came down, and we did some of my favorite South Florida things: the beach, feed monkeys, walk underwater with space helmets on, and pet a baby tiger. I also cooked more delicious food through meal delivery services like Hello Fresh and Blue Apron. I visited Notre Dame Law during the last weekend in February. It rained one day and snowed the following day. Nobody on my tour could explain where non-binary people fit into their binary housing. I rolled my eyes a little. I flew into Chicago and drove to and from South Bend, IN in a rental car; I stopped by Michigan City and took in some beautiful scenery on the way back.
The following weekend, the first weekend in March, I visited Indiana Bloomington’s law school. I saw a couple of friends, stayed at a very nice Hilton (the chocolate chip cookies were excellent), and really enjoyed my visit. Then I went home for a week in March. Two of my cousins (Brad and Breanne), my brother and his girlfriend, my parents and I all celebrated my dad’s birthday! I also visited Ohio State and Capital while I was home. At the end of March, we went on a YAMM retreat to Talahassee for Florida Advocacy Days. We advocated for a free drivers’ license program for kids in foster care, a human trafficking bill, and a bill calling for juvenile civil citations and diversion programs. I also got to talk with a couple of folks about drivers’ licenses for undocumented drivers. It’s always great to be with the other YAMMs, even when we have to sleep on the floor of a church!
In early April, I visited George Mason’s Scalia Law School and GW Law. I also got to walk around the Tidal Basin and the Mall, and some of the cherry blossoms were still there. I stayed with my college roommate, Lindsay, which was really nice. The following weekend, I went home to Ohio for Easter. It’s always great to be home with family. (Also there is no better feeling than when your dog rolls all over you because she is so excited to see you!) The next weekend, I traveled back to Washington, DC for Global Mission Fellow US-2 Endterms and Ecumenical Advocacy Days. During Ecumenical Advocacy Days, we attended lobbying training and workshops about various social justice issues. Our main focus was the budget (Hell No, This Sinful Budget’s Got to Go!). We also were able to join (before the arrests) a sit-in in one of the Senate Office Buildings (Hart?), during which we sang songs like “Ella’s Song” and “Amazing Grace” and stood around those who intended to be arrested. It was very powerful. During the rest of the week, my cohort and I met in groups to discuss our experience as Global Mission Fellow US-2s. It’s always wonderful to be together!
During the first weekend in May, I went to SeaWorld in Orlando with my friend, Laura and her boyfriend to visit my friend, Holly, who works there! We got to pet and feed stingrays, pet sharks, feed sea lions, and pet a penguin. The shows were a lot of fun, too! It was awesome! In May I also decided to try AncestryDNA, which was interesting. I just got my test results back yesterday…I feel a little bit foolish for paying all of that money, just to find out I’m Caucasian. Also in May, I got to meet a baby Chimpanzee at the Zoological Wildlife Foundation, basically fulfilling a 10-year-old (or more!) dream. I also marched for Haitian TPS with some folks from Friends of Miami-Dade Detainees. At the end of May, I spent some time in the Florida Keys and saw a bunch of nurse sharks (right next to my feet). I also finally made it past Key West to Dry Tortugas National Park. I did some snorkeling (but not too much because I had to be on the lookout for the crocodile who lives there), got really sunburnt (it lasted for about a week before it started peeling), and saw some pretty cool fish!
On June 1, I volunteered with Friends of Miami-Dade Detainees and visited a Cuban immigrant (who arrived just after the Wet Foot, Dry Foot policy had ended) for the first time. Even if the Wet Foot, Dry Foot policy was created to make Cuba look bad, it benefited immigrants seeking social mobility and a different kind of life unavailable to them in Cuba; I really wish that we would consider the most vulnerable individuals when making policy choices. (I will note here that, in theory, I think socialism and marxism are great ideas, and they would have perhaps worked well in Cuba, without the US embargo and later the fall of the Soviet Union. However, giving people a choice is also important, and I am grateful that we have the ability to choose so much about our lives here in the US.) I was in Cuba when Trump made the announcement about making it more difficult for American tourists to visit Cuba again; a friend of our church’s wife called him to say that she was upset about Trump’s words and could not take another embargo.
During the first weekend in June, I took a spontaneous trip to Marco Island and Tigertail Beach, in search of sand dollars and really cool seashells. I found some (threw most of the cool ones back because they were living/had something living inside), and I also saw a horseshoe crab and stingray. On the way there, I stopped at the Miccosukee Indian Village, where I asked someone to teach me to wrestle an alligator. They said I could sit on one and take a picture, which was fine, too, I guess. As it turned out, the man who showed me how to sit on the alligator was the same alligator wrestler I used to volunteer with at the Everglades Outpost. I think I can say I’ve made it in the animal world since I went somewhere new and already knew the alligator wrestler. Small world!
All of this traveling has meant that I pretty much gave up on volunteering with the SPCA/going to Bible study at Branches, which I also wanted to do, but you can’t do it all, and YOLO.
At the end of the following week, I headed to Orlando for the Florida Annual Conference and one last YAMM retreat. It was awesome to be with everyone! It was also great that the Drivers’ License resolution and a resolution on Welcoming the Migrant In Our Midst, among others (Black Lives Matter, Mass Incarceration, etc.) passed! I gave blood one day, spontaneously, and I almost blacked out (I didn’t drink my normal 3 bottles of water ahead of time), but I didn’t. As Mos Def once said, “mind over matter and soul before flesh.” I took that to mean I should talk myself out of passing out, which I did by saying, “Emily, don’t pass out.” I also ate a cookie and drank more water and sat with my head between my legs (flashing everyone like the ladylike woman in a dress that I am), so that could have been it, too. I was able to meet Holly for dessert that night at Planet Hollywood, though, which was fun!
I got back to Homestead on Saturday night. By Monday at 5 AM, I had done my laundry and packed for 6 days in Cuba! I flew to Varadero, Cuba, with Church of the Messiah UMC. It was an awesome trip, especially because we got to visit the churches we are partnered with/helped fund, and they have made so much construction progress since last year’s trip, when we met them for the first time (2 out of 3 of the churches started new projects with the funds). We stayed at an all-inclusive resort, which I was skeptical of, until our community partners explained that doing so made the logistics much easier from their end. I drank something like 12 virgin piña coladas.
We spent most of the week doing VBS-like programming with the kids. My mom and I were in charge of songs (Cristo Me Ama, Yo Tengo Gozo, Alelu, Quien Es Rey De La Selva, etc.). Lannie read a story, “Jesus Loves Me”, and the Storers brought Polaroid cameras and Popsicle sticks for a fun craft. We also handed out beanie babies to the kids, and we gave bags of cooking oil, beans, and rice to the families. The last part felt a little less like mutuality and more like us trying to save them, which I didn’t like, so when it came time to hand my bag to a man, I said to him, “Thank you for being a part of this church and for sharing the love of God in this place.” They are the real heroes, the ones who engage in missional work all of the time, not us, the people visiting for a week. I can say this as a Missionary, that serving for years is more challenging than serving for a week, and building relationships is the most important thing we can do, even though resources are helpful, too, especially in a country like Cuba, where you can have enough money and take that money to the store, only to find out they don’t have what you need to buy.
We visited La Habana for a day, toured Varadero, went to the pool/beach almost every evening, and ate (a lot). We also had some fun with a bootleg Flat Jimmy. I was very grateful for this opportunity and to be a part of this group. I am also very grateful and inspired by the joy and love expressed by those I met in Cuba. Lastly, I’m thankful for all of the teachers who taught me how to speak Spanish. Super useful, obviously.
This week started off with me going to a health clinic because of some sort of bug I caught in Cuba. The doctor gave me tamiflu, a z pack, and something to cure the runs. I’m not sure if he knew what was wrong with me. All I knew is explosive diarrhea, a fever, a sore throat, a stuffy nose, a sore face, and uncontrollable crying (that part was embarrassing and weird, though I think a result of my sore face and fatigue) was probably the flu. I would not go back to that clinic. The thin walls have to be some sort of HIPAA violation (I’m mostly joking, but I don’t care what my neighbor’s blood pressure is or that it’s too high). I also don’t care that my nurse, obviously a University of Miami student or just really new at his job, felt bad that I was crying while he stuck some sort of long Q-tip up my nose and another one into the back of my throat, and felt the need to tell the doctor that (again, thin walls). I just wanted something to make me feel better, so I could go home, and go back to sleep. Normally I would say stay home if you have the flu, but that tamiflu stuff really seemed to bring my energy level back in like a day. Solid.
Apparently a lot of people are sick right now because my clients are cancelling their appointments for that reason. I’m grateful that I have good health insurance through my program and also through my parents. I’m also grateful that I don’t work outside in the fields or doing construction, like most of my clients.
Today I cleaned out my desk at work. 1 week left. It’s amazing how much junk I’ve collected. I’ve also been packing and cleaning my room. I’ve shipped 3 boxes home already.
I decided that I would celebrate the end of my term of service with a trip to Fort Myers (one of my favorite beaches). I may stop at Marco Island on the way home, too. I also intend to feed the monkeys at Monkey Jungle one last time.
There is also the matter of saying goodbye. I worked so hard on many of our cases and may never know what happens to our clients. Will they receive asylum? Will they get to adjust their status? Will they become citizens? Will she become a doctor? Will she be deported to her death, like her cousin was?
I will miss my clients and this experience, but I’m also excited for my next adventure (and also for a break and time with my family)!
Thank you all for following this journey and for your prayers and support. Thank you also to everyone who donated–I surpassed my $6,000 fundraising goal because of your support! Please continue to pray for all of the Global Mission Fellows as we continue to serve and then transition home.
May God bless you.