Internships: Finding your passion


Elena Hernandez at Northwest Immigrant Rights Project

The LSJ internship requirement offers students a chance to see the dynamics of law and justice on the ground, and perhaps uncover one’s passions in the process. That was the case for recent LSJ alum Alison Tong and senior Elena Hernandez, both of whom interned at Northwest Immigrant Rights Project (NWIRP), a non-profit organization that provides legal services and community education to low-income refugees and immigrants in Washington State.

Hernandez, who is also studying international relations and human rights, said that she decided to volunteer at NWIRP because of LSJ 425, “Domesticating International Human Rights: Perspectives on U.S. Asylum and Refugee Law.” For her, the class was a life-changing experience because it exposed her to an area of law that she had never thought about. After learning more about NWIRP, she realized that it was a field about which she is passionate.

As an intern for NWIRP, Hernandez worked with the development team on a project to spread the word about the importance of breaking down the complexities of immigration law so that everyone can relate to it.

“Looking up all the different petitions and visas was interesting but also showed me how convoluted the system is,” said Hernandez. “And the fact that in most cases, you are not required to have a lawyer in immigration court, I really don’t know how anyone could make sense of it all on their own. It showed me once again how important NWIRP’s work is.”

Tong, who graduated in autumn 2010, said that when she was picking out an internship, she wanted to find an organization that had a strong social justice factor where she would be able to see the effects of immigration law.

“Almost all of my time [at my internship] was spent interviewing and taking down information about potential clients,” said Tong. “It was one of the things that attracted me to the internship that I got to work one-on-one with people and it was very interactive.”

Tong said that her internship also allowed her to connect what she learned in the classroom with real-life experiences. She also explained that immigration law is so complex and hard to understand even for her and to expect that someone who has English as a second language to understand the requirements was maddening.

“It was really frustrating because seeing someone who’s life is so deeply affected by immigration law or who has lived in the United States most of their life then they are put on deportation proceedings for a small matter,” said Tong. “It’s hard because I see how it can affect not just their own life but the lives of their family and loved ones.”

Both Tong and Hernandez said that their internships taught them about the different processes that individuals must go through to obtain legal status in the United States and the importance of legal aid in immigration law.

“There are so many hoops you have to jump through [with the] rules, regulations and deadlines…and it changes so frequently,” said Hernandez. “It’s like a full time job just to make sense of it all.”

Internships at organizations such as the Northwest Immigration Rights Project are a great way for students to gain hands on experience in the field and learn more about the complexities of immigration law by witnessing firsthand the effects of law.

“I think many of us become LSJ majors because we want to go to law school, so the obvious choice when it comes to an internship would be a standard law office,” said Hernandez. “Yet, this opportunity provided me with so much more insight than I could have imagined.”

This article was composed by Charlotte Anthony.