by Liz Willis ‘17
I spent this summer at El Centro de los Derechos del Migrante in Mexico City. CDM’s goal is to help migrant workers defend and protect their rights, and they work to decrease any barriers to justice that exist as a result of the national border. CDM employees really care about doing excellent work for the workers who contact their offices, and that’s clear in the effort, time, and enthusiasm they put into conversations with workers, regardless of how busy they are.
I worked on intakes, settlement management, outreach, and policy issues. The intakes were with workers from all over Mexico who were in the United States working, or who had already returned, and had questions about their rights related to workers’ compensation, wage and hour claims, and employment discrimination. Settlement management involved talking to workers about their rights related to the settlements, gathering evidence, and following up with workers about issues with their claims. I also wrote comments, as well as worked on other smaller policy projects, all related to new regulations about the H-2B visa program for non-agricultural guest workers.
The most valuable aspect of my experience was the ability to talk to clients constantly in Spanish. I feel much more confident in my ability to conduct intakes, construct affidavits, and explain legal issues to clients on the phone and in person. Because I know that I want to work directly with clients, I really wanted to develop those skills, and I’m so glad that I was able to do that this summer. I also really appreciated the opportunity to learn how to read regulations closely, analyze them, and construct useful comments. I felt that I really understood how to develop arguments for legal cases by analyzing regulations, and I am sure that skill will come in handy.
By working at CDM, I learned that I want to work directly with clients as much as possible, but that I also enjoy research and thinking about changing the legal regime surrounding human, worker, and immigrants’ rights more broadly. I did quite a bit of policy work, and I was able to go on one four-day outreach trip. I really enjoyed those experiences. CDM is connected with the community and works on creating change through a variety of policy and outreach efforts, in addition to litigation. For instance, check out the website www.contratados.org, which aims to improve the availability of information about recruiters and employers for workers attempting to come to the U.S. to work through visa programs like H-2B, H-2A, and J-1.
I was also truly inspired by my supervisor, Jessica Stender, who was the legal director while I was there. She was absolutely committed to doing her best work for all the workers that contacted our office, and it was clear that it came from a genuine interest in their well-being and success in receiving money they are owed, finding representation, or defending themselves against rights violations. She cared immensely about every intake and was dedicated to her work. I hope that I can be a similar kind of lawyer, especially because she developed excellent relationships with clients and was able to inspire confidence and trust. Similarly, Lilian, a lawyer in Mexico and a paralegal for CDM, worked endlessly and successfully with workers, both in the office and on outreach trips.
One of the main reasons that CDM is successful is their contact and relationship with workers, and Jessica and Lilian contributed greatly to those relationships. They reminded me of the importance, especially when working in social movement building or rights education, of forming strong relationships and being a trustworthy and personable advocate. Because I saw them in action, I was able to recognize the value that I can contribute to organizations by connecting with the community, and I will continue to work on that type of skill as I move forward with my career.