Greetings from Santa Fe, New Mexico—my home for the next month while I am working with the Santa Fe Dreamers Project. First, it continues to be an awesome testament to the power of community of how exactly I landed here. My friend from college, Katie, had a mutual friend in common with the attorney/friend I am now working with who runs the Santa Fe Dreamers Project. When I first launched Attorney on the Move last summer, Katie reached out and let me know about the work that Allegra was up with helping Santa Fe youth receive benefits through Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA). DACA is critically important because it provides qualified immigrants with a reprieve from deportation, work authorization in the United States, and valid social security numbers. Those benefits provide Dreamers with the tools to finish high school, pursue higher education, develop careers, and participate in the local economy. The Santa Fe Dreamers Project is a great model of the intersection of lawyering and organizing—I'm excited to be here.
It's also been wonderful getting to work on the ground again with another social justice attorney. As I've reflected upon before, this type of work can get tough when in a prolonged state of isolation for too long. When I was in Montana/Idaho/Northern Arizona—I wholeheartedly enjoyed the work I was doing, but was not able to plug into a progressive community—nevermind a social justice attorney/activist community to help with those feelings of necessary support.
After some thought, here's the breakdown of my top 3 reasons why having support while doing social justice work is so freaking important:
- Secondary trauma is real. One of my friends, after reading my post a few months ago about what it was like working in a federal immigration detention center, sent me a link to a book called Trauma Stewardship. For folks who are working in impacted communities for the long haul, it is definitely important to realize the toll it can take on ourselves—it's kind of analogous to that safety message shown on airplanes before flying: to put on your own mask before you can help anyone else.
- Processing is essential in order to move forward. A lot can happen in any given day. I wrapped up my time in Tucson last Friday, and received an update from an intake I had performed earlier in the week—I was trying to get a woman's case referred to another immigration lawyer before leaving town. The meeting with the attorney was set up and everything. But the woman had decided to go back to Honduras after a couple months of journeying to the US and a couple more months of trying to figure out next steps of her potential new life. I could go into more of her details, but the bottom line was that she had made the decision to leave. Nevermind the amount of work I had put into her potential claim—it was more of the frustration of knowing she was returning to a country that was unsafe for her and her son. I knew she had experienced a serious level of trauma, but I just didn't understand how that situation unfolded the way it did. I spent my last work day at the shelter in Tucson debriefing with a friend for a couple hours who also worked with her—and it really helped to process my emotions and thoughts around it. I acknowledge and accept that every individual has their own sense of agency when it comes to their life—it is not something I can control. And my conversation with my friend helped gently remind me of this important tenet.
- Finding moments of joy is necessary. Particularly in immigration detention work, the aura around those cases carries a weight that is hard to describe. A smile from a client; a hug from a colleague/friend; taking a few moments for something that gives you a sense of reassurance or energy; leaning fully into those moments of joy is really important. It makes those opportunities or moments stand out that much more. After sleeping on office couches for a couple months, I seriously can't tell you how stoked I am to be sleeping in a bed! (And trust me, I was still grateful for those couches.) It's something I would like to think I wouldn't have taken for granted—but now I can sure as hell tell you that I don't! My friend asked me how my new digs at the Santa Fe Art Institute have been going. I said it was great. She said: "Well, I think I read somewhere that you once slept in a broom closet with a rat, so I figured you'd be all set." Yeah, there was that time with the trailer that was infested with mice... so, yes, a moment of sincere gratitude & joy was to be had over my current living situation.
And you reading this and being a supportive friend and member of my community absolutely contributes to enabling me to continue to do this work for the long haul. Thank you, thank you for being part of my journey—I feel your good vibes from the land of enchantment. 'Til next week!