Andrea Flores ’21 received a We Act Grant for the summer of 2019. Read her testimonial below about her how she worked with the Central American Resource Center

Headshot of Adrea

Andrea Flores (SCR ’21)

Flash back to last spring semester where I was frantically sending my resume to (what felt like) thousands of nonprofits organizations and research programs across the country. During this process, prior to any responses, is where I learned my first lesson: nonprofits can be disorganized due to a lack of funds and therefore, my emails fell down a rabbit hole. So, I left Scripps disappointed because I had no set plans for the summer. However, the best (and most stressful) birthday present arrived in mid-May: an interview for a position at CARECEN, the Central American Resource Center, in Los Angeles. CARECEN is the largest Central American immigrant rights organization in the country. I was able to be a part of the CARECEN familia thanks to the We Act grant.  


The organization consists of various aspects of immigrant rights: DACA, TPS, family-based petitions, political advocacy, ESL classes, day-laborer centers, citizenship workshops, etc. I was accepted as part of the Survivors of Violence Unit, which works with adjusting immigration status through U-Visas and VAWA, the Violence Against Women Act. I had no strict responsibilities but rather added duties as I familiarized myself with the work.  


This summer was particularly chaotic in immigration law, to say the least. Possibly it was because I was immersed in this world, and therefore more conscious of policy changes, but the CARECEN team was always running to keep up with the President’s new memos. This summer we saw news around the restriction of “third world” refugees, the public charge bill, the raids, the uncertainty of DACA and TPS…. I could go on. Here and there we received good news, such as the passing of the Promise Act through the House, which stops removal proceedings against undocumented folks who were brought to the U.S. as children and establishes a clear path to citizenship. However, if we, in the office were constantly on edge about policy changes, imagine the stress the communities actually affected by these sporadic changes were under. 


I shadowed intake appointments, corrected applications, compiled receipts for income proof, translated documents, called clients to give updates, and learned how to conduct FBI fingerprinting. Due to the political climate, I ended up with my own personal project in response to the raids. I was in charge of drafting cartas de amparo, or letters of protection/aid. Essentially, the letters urged immigration officials to not take any actions against our client because they had a pending case with us (in the case that they did come into contact with an ICE agent during a raid). The letters had to appeal to an official by including information about the client’s jobs or underage children (only U.S. citizen children though). It was bittersweet to see experience our client’s relief as they received a letter that could advocate for them away from the office, but held no real administrative power.  


That being said, the most intensive task I had overall was shadowing intake interviews which was emotionally taxing for all the parties involved. Due to the nature of our unit, the client had to give us vivid details of the violent crime they survived in order to include it as a declaration on their application. Most of them were Spanish-speakers, so we would take notes of how they described the event and translate it, maintaining its integrity.  


At this time is when I struggled to understand my role as a first-generation intern with a mixed-status family myself. It was difficult to sit through hours at a time of traumatic experiences, especially because I was instructed to maintain a level of professionalism that prevented me from offering support in the way I was raised to do. Often our clients didn’t have access to formal therapy so we became their first encounter of support. The more poignant lesson from this task was how degrading and re-traumatizing the immigration process is for survivors of violence. They are required to retell their story to professionals who then advocate on their behalf; at the end of the process, their case ran the risk of not even being approved because of the uncertainty of immigration law. Hearing from the community itself, I was able to pinpoint only a small portion of the intersectional challenges they are facing as immigrants: health access, housing, wage theft, education, domestic violence, childcare, language barriers, etc. Being able to connect with our clients through a shared language was very valuable to me and made me appreciatory bilingual skills; I’m considering entering professional spaces, such as hospitals or courtrooms, where I can help offer similar services.  


Being on the administrative side of it was a different kind of challenging. On one part I got to build my network and connect with the legal community within CARECEN. On the other hand, I had to work with people everyday who resembled my parents, and even grandparents, and deliver bad news or explain that their case would take years and thousands of dollars to complete. I thought about how much easier it would be to practice law in an area I had no personal ties to, but how that would be less rewarding.  


Despite the challenges (and the heavy topics I’ve written about), I genuinely had a great experience living in LA and being part of the CARECEN community. I was immersed in this work for weeks and was able to develop a deep respect for community organizers who continue to challenge systematic injustice. I was tested on my ability to care for my self but was able to leave CARECEN feeling accomplished, passionate, and very tired. The work is draining, but it is worth it. 


Lastly, it is also necessary for me to acknowledge my blessings. Although I grew as a leader, I couldn’t have done it without my boss and mentor, Ainslie Tarr, and the communities we work for. They are the resilient, innovative, and powerful ones. Undocumented folks will rarely be praised for or elevated to positions of power in this country, but they exhibit true leadership in moving our communities forward. I am so lucky to have met and worked with iconic individuals.