By Dayalis Zamora
As I am about to begin my sophomore year in college, life-determining questions are asked of me. What major am I declaring? Where do I want to go after college? These are tough questions to ask a 20-year-old, but thankfully, my internships have given me enough experience that such queries are not as daunting to me.
In high school, I was a proud intern for LWVPBC, working directly with the Civics Education committee on creating crossword puzzles to help residents study for the citizenship exam. My work extended to creating presentations on how local, state, and federal governments work – information that may seem simple and self-explanatory, but one would be surprised at how many people can barely differentiate between when to call their federal congressman and when to call their state representative. (Here, committee chair Christene Campbell-Gabor would scream that this is why we need more civics education in classrooms!)
Most importantly, LWVPBC, under my mentors Christene Campbell-Gabor and Pamela Maldonado, has not only taught me a strong work ethic and other valuable technical skills, but it has also pushed me to always question the status quo.
Before I left for college, LWVPBC held a panel on Palm Beach County education at the South Florida Science Museum. With my mom watching from the crowd, I was perhaps visibly nervous as I asked, “How can we make the curriculum [in public school systems] reflective of our society?” Challenging the status quo.
A year later, I am interning at an immigration law firm and the International Rescue Committee in the heart of Manhattan, where I work with refugees and undocumented persons on a daily basis. My work is stressful, high-stakes, irritating, beautiful, and directly impactful. I am affecting the lives of individual people, and I see the change in their demeanor when I tell them we received their green card in the mail, or when I fill out their food stamps application through the IRC’s matching grant program.
Although I know my work as an intern in the non-profit world is essential and time-sensitive, I cannot help but wonder why the system is written against them. Why are refugees displaced for decades during the vetting process before coming to the United States? Why does the federal government provide all refugees with the same rent money, when 500 dollars in Missoula, Montana stretches a lot farther than it does in Queens, New York? Why are there 70.8 million refugees in the world, and less than one percent are considered for resettlement (this is across 28 resettlement countries, not just the U.S.!)? Why did the Trump Administration decree a travel ban from the countries refugees are fleeing, asking for an extreme vetting process when being a refugee is already the hardest way to enter the U.S.?
At our orientation, the directors of the IRC programs told us that our goal for this year is to resettle 75 refugees in New York City, one of the largest cities in the U.S. My mind wandered to how many refugees are being resettled to other cities –– perhaps way less than 75 refugees, and how many refugees in camps would still wait to be resettled?
My work is significant and extremely valuable, as refugees have less than 90 days to receive food stamps, health care, and other necessities before they’re on their own. I recognize this importance, and yet, LWVPBC always taught me to challenge the status quo. Just because this is how it has been done does not mean this is how it should be.
Non-profit work is micro-level change, and while I used to tell myself I would be content with changing an individual’s life, I do not believe I still am content with this. As much as my high school experience was spent advocating for civics education, I do not believe I will become a politician, either. The hardest part of my internship is being complacent with the international laws set in place, helping the refugees navigate this new system through a cultural orientation rather than questioning the system itself. I truly believe that, in order to enact lasting and monumental change in society, it begins with the law. Perhaps the best way to challenge and change the status quo is to lead by example, to create an antecedent for future cases, to challenge the law and the foundation with which the international community governs.
Maybe international law is my answer to those questions; maybe it is my future.