Seeking Justice Through Stories: Immigration Law, Social Justice, Cultural Studies, and Vocation

By | September 2, 2019

Hi, I’m Susan Okamoto Late and I’m the Dean of Multiethinic and Wellness Programs. And i think one of the great things that I get to do at Seattle Pacific University is to get know some students and get to know their stories and to find out how to support them. And I think when it comes to the whole topic of the undocumented Americans We have these images that pop into our mind of people at the border and you know crossing the rivers and not even being aware that there are students here at Seattle Pacific. Sometimes they are in active Student Leadership roles some might be your classmates But because of the fear, that it’s not only their story but that it is their family stories and the fear of what the ramifications could be That they might not share that. Last year, I had the privilege of getting to know our speaker, Gretchen Korb-Nice because with the travel ban, there was a lot of uncertainty and fear among students. What does this mean? And you know would I be separated from my parents and what about my siblings living in another state? Another cool part of what I get to do is succeed at resources in the community and how they come around both on campus and in communities with care and expertise to support students. So, that’s how I got to know Gretchen Korb-Nice last year. to talk about what was happing with the travel ban and what were the implications and also to meet with the students who needed the assistance outside of the classes. So, with that, thank you Gretchen for coming today. She’s got a great story too. (applause) Good afternoon everybody. Thank you for coming and spending your lunch hour, your break here with me. And it’s such an honor to be and sounds like an inaugural speaker for this fantastic new major that you have. I wish that I had had the opportunity to select this major when I was a student. This is just a combination of marriage of so many amazing ideas and concepts and it really seems like something that you can do an enormous amount of things with. So, I’m excited for you all that you have this opportunity. If you’re declaring this as your major And if you’re not, maybe you’re missing out. This sounds really great My name is Gretchen and I am an immigration attorney and I was invited to come talk with you today about my journey. From sitting in your spot kind of I was it feels like a long time ago But it wasn’t that long ago where I was in the same spot you are but in Boston So on the other side of the country and wondering kind of you know, what I was going to do with this thing called “life”. And feeling the burden of expectations both that I put on myself and that others had put on me around me and kind of how I leveraged being able to attend to university and leverage that to a place where I’m in a vocation I do consider my work a vocation that I love and I think is It’s a gift to be able to do the work that I get to do. So I’m going to just share that journey with you your journey will be your own and completely different than mine, but I’m hopeful that when you’re 43 and have lived some of life that you can look back and reflect on your journey and are as grateful as I feel today that you have had the experiences that you’ve had. So hopefully I can be somewhat of an encouragement for you at the beginning of that journey, I I have a road map. I was a teacher first before a lawyer. So I have this like inability to avoid being a teacher so This is what we’re going to talk about today Like I said I’ll talk a little bit about my own journey, and I have some of my own thoughts about vocation. Have you all talked about that word before today?Is that something that you’ve talked about? Okay. You know, it’s a word that kind of theology owned but now kind of um, More mainstream America’s latching on to so it’s I feel like it’s a word that’s evolved over time But I so I’m interested in your thoughts on it, but I have some of my own thoughts on vocation And I will talk with a little bit about you know, why immigration for me why immigration law? how did I end up here and for those of you who may be interested in immigration law or if this seems like something that you’d like to just explore I do have some entry points some suggestions for you know How you can dabble or get involved or figure out if this is something that gets you excited and then the last piece just very briefly. And if we have time I’ll just kind of do a 101 of immigration law just for those of you who are academically or politically or just socially interested and how does this all work and we we’ll do that at the end. So first of all, I just I’m gonna tell you my story and kind of my journey and this is um Again, this is just this is what my experience looked like and I you know, I I’m hopeful that by sharing my story you have an opportunity to think about how your journey may be as kind of bumpy and unpredictable as my own and that in some ways that part of making you who you are is that if we planned everything out perfectly and followed the plan right? Then we’re not allowing ourselves to be impacted by the people and the conversations and the situations that we find ourselves in. So it’s sometimes it’s bumpy. I studied at Oxford for my senior year and I wasn’t finished with my coursework until the end of June. And all of my peers were finishing in May and I was frantically worried about how I was going to get a job when everyone else Was already applying for jobs, that would be gone So I started applying for jobs and the first and only job that I applied for right away, was it a teaching job. Again just the irony of saying what you I’m not going to do this I’m not going to do this and they ended up in this teaching. I did end up teaching for a school called Landmark, so I was hired while still in Oxford and I came back In a week or so later started working at this school and the school was for kids with dyslexia So all of the students were pretty significantly Dyslexic and had failed all out of all of the public school systems And so the public school systems were actually paying this exuberant fee to send the kids to this private school that I taught at and that that experience gave me an opportunity to work one-on-one with students that all of the kids had tutorials So this was familiar from my Oxford experience or they had classes in the class sizes were maxed at six so for me that was so it was an impactful experience because I worked with students who were considered failures by their Community and by the school districts from which they came from and I got to see that They were smart bright kids who hadn’t been served well by an education system and so Through my years there I just developed this deep love of teaching and of working with students who had the Society had given up on him It was it was cheaper to send them away to a boarding school Than it was to try to work within the school district with these kids and honestly families had given up on them, too I mean these kids were between the ages of 9 and 18. We’re living full-time at school so that um to me that kind of opened my eyes to what it meant to advocate for one person and Advocating for that one kid. I Was able to see over the years transformed that kid which in turn transformed that kids family and their Ability to can contribute to their community and to the greater community that I worked in because we were we were filled with hope and We had a different perspective on what it meant to have a learning disability so these were transformative years for me. Through that I eventually moved to Seattle and I started working with the Seattle School District as an administrator working with kids who had reading disabilities. So I stayed in that kind of same area. But I started to feel frustrated with the lack of systemic the the systemic problems that kind of kept putting kids who didn’t fit in the mold properly kept putting kids kind of off to the side and it was frustrating to me that kids who I knew were bright and had the ability to move into a place of thriving were not given that opportunity because of a learning disability. So I decided that I wanted to try to figure out how to work within the legal system to address those needs to address those issues kind of the gaps with that my students were feeling and that was in, you know, a lot of ways pushing my students down and not letting those students move out of that kind of stuck place. So I explored the kind of two options in town for legal training and decided that Legal training was more appealing to me than an administration of Public Policy Degree which is those are sort of the two options if you’re interested in policy or law and I decided I wanted more practical training I had a degree in philosophy and English literature So I was ready for something that I could apply directly to a job so I decided I would like to go to a law school and Quickly within my and I also was working So I chose a law school because I didn’t want to stop the practical work. I was loving my work. So I remained I Stuck I continued working and also attended law school and it I wasn’t I had kids in law school too. So it ended up not working out to do everything So eventually I stopped working my third year of law school but the but I also learned in law school that Education is its own kind of legislative animal and that law Isn’t the best way to impact the educational system And that was you know That was really hard for me because I had at that point dedicated my 10 years of my life to kids with learning disabilities and Wanted desperately to figure out how to make a systemic change and What I learned was that lawyers engage with Education through truancy and that was not interesting to me at all I didn’t want to force kids to go to school. That wasn’t what I That wasn’t why I want why I wanted to go to law school so, you know at that point I was invested I was Invested in financially, emotionally, you know, we made a lot of sacrifices as a family So I was in law school. So I decided I’m gonna take advantage of this. I took tax law environmental law Why not? You know, I’m just gonna learn about how to engage in my community took a bunch of just interesting law classes And it was great. I think everyone should go to law school. I really do It really is. I am a better citizen. I am more informed I can read that contract I don’t do that for work ever but it is a great training It really truly is I mean if somebody else would pay for it Everybody should do it But you should not do it if you’re not Getting if you’re just interested in doing it without someone paying for it because it is very expensive. Um, so I did um I decided I would needed to explore some other things and one of those things with tax and Environmental law one of those things that I explored was immigration law And I had worked with lots of students from lots of different countries and so that was I could find a way to be interested in that and so I I decided to take a class and at the same time there was a clinic offered and so at the same time I Signed up to take up this clinic and for the clinic meant that while learning about immigration law I was at the same time going to be working with a client and I would get to work with somebody who was um applying for some sort of status in the United States and the client whom I was Asked to work with was a client who had been the victim of violence In the United States, but because she didn’t have a visa because she didn’t have status here in the United States she was afraid she was afraid that if she reported the crime she would get deported or that if she Spoke out then someone would find out that her kids were here so she had all these vulnerabilities that were prohibiting her from speaking up for herself and I Was on board. I just thought that that was amazing work and that I was honored to be able to Help her navigate the law So that we could get her a visa and she was able to eventually get a green card her kids have green cards, and they’re on their way to becoming citizens now, so but that experience of working similar to the teaching experience of working with somebody who was Starting in a place for it. They felt like all of the systems Were kind of keeping them down and forcing them in a place where they couldn’t move forward and couldn’t participate in their community and couldn’t feel safe with their family and Helping being able to help somebody move out of that. That was what energized me and so at that point in my law school career, I thought I I can get behind this and this is something that I can I can care I could care deeply about and so I continued for the rest of Law School Volunteering with an organization called Northwest immigrant rights project and while Volunteering with them I just became more and more excited about the ways in which the the legal profession the immigration legal profession intersected with things that I care deeply about and the way that I could potentially marry those two areas and so I I am not currently working in any area of Education. I do miss it and I love students but I think you know part of my journey is that you know, I Maybe there will be a time where that can That will re-enter my life and that would be fun But it’s not currently right now. I’ve heard the last 10 years. I’ve been focusing exclusively on immigration law and that That has been a joy for me. So that’s my journey to now and I Said I would quickly talk about vocation Just for me again, you’ve heard me talk about some of the ways in which I have been motivated or energized by work and by the way, the things that I pour myself into and so I have thought about vocation you know as an adult and also as a student, a young student Entering college and then going through various universities and one of the things that It can feel burdensome to me it can feel like I’ve got to figure this out there’s some Calling and I need to figure out what that calling is, and I guess I don’t know I’m hoping that I’m not saying something contrary to what you’ve heard, but I don’t know that there is a calling for all of us except that there is something within each of you that you care deeply about and that makes you feel connected to your community and to each other and I think that if you can connect that to the work you do to me, that’s a vocation And it may be like for me that it’s not just one thing For me it was, is I still care deeply about education. I think every kid should have access to education That’s something it’s a I think a fundamental value that we share And I also care deeply about our immigration community and about Access to to the justice system. Those are things I also care deeply about so I think that when I think of vocation, I think less about a calling and more about connecting who you are to the work that you do, so Why immigration law I think I’ve kind of Walked just there, but hopefully you can see that My journey my professional journey my personal journey with might the various experiences that I’ve had and the Those things that I’ve grown to care deeply about Those have sort of ushered me into a place where I feel like the this area of work this profession this vocation is a place where I can pour myself and the things that I care deeply about into I also know that it’s a privilege and I think that that’s a piece that You know is it we work through that you’re all here at a university You have access to this amazing privilege of attending school and going to Classes all day and learning and listening and thinking about big ideas There I I know that you know that there are others across the world your same age who will never have that opportunity So what will you do with that privilege? That’s my responsibility I think that you have and so and I carry that I I know that when I talk with clients every day, I know that access to a legal education was an incredible privilege and That the ability to do something that I care deeply about is also an incredible privilege And so those are things that are also a responsibility And then of course for you know as I’ve talked about for me the the work that I do is Satisfying it’s challenging Honestly this last year and a half Two years. It’s been more challenging than I really ever wanted it to be and There, you know certainly there are times there You know once a week or so that I think I’d like to pour a cup of coffee at Starbucks. That’s really good I think I just that would be a great job for me. I Think I’d do that. Well, it’s like too hot or too cold like I could I could manage that So there are definitely days where it I feel like it’s too hard. That’s too challenging But again kind of back to that privilege I have the privilege of doing work I care about and so I’m going to stay with it even when it is so challenging so I I have a whole list of resources if you’re interested in immigration law This is something you think you might want to dabble in or you want to learn more? Here this OneAmerica. This is a like real time in a couple weeks. You could volunteer for a citizenship day These are so fun So fun there’s in there in Seattle, October 27th and November 17th Hundreds of people come through these clinics To apply to become US citizens it is, you know for people who like I said I’ve worked with some people for 10 years. This is the dream. They’ve been working so hard for this to become a u.s Citizen so it is like the happiest of days. It’s so fun and I would definitely recommend volunteering lots of students volunteer if you know another language you can you can actually be paired with Somebody who’s applying for citizenship and you can journey through the whole day with them Which is really fun so you can act as an interpreter if you don’t speak some language other than English then there are lots of other things you can do you can put Information into forms, you could help screening. There are lots of things you can do. So OneAmerica They have citizenship days Twice a year at least every year. So if it doesn’t work out this year just file it away for the future Refugee women’s alliance. These are all just organizations in this city That do great work. I know these organizations Well, they all do great work and they all support immigrants and you don’t have to be an immigration lawyer Some of these things are, you know after-school programs for kids these are You know driving somebody to an appointment or you know There are lots of different ways and actually most of these Catholic community services for sure and care these two for sure have like a volunteer website so you can like shop for what you’re interested in and Send an application so that I had I did I was gonna just share a little bit about the Immigration and Nationality Act But I think we don’t have time and I wanted to walk you through this other quick activity, can I just do one activity Really fast. Okay. So ninety-eight just this is the immigration Nationality Act We have visas just to like oh, this is super basic but there are visas and you need to have a visa in order to be able to Permitted entry into the United States. Everybody has to have a visa to enter student visa tourist visa immigrant visa workers visa any type of visa Congress determined that four hundred and seventy thousand people every year should get an immigrant visa that means a visa that you can immigrate and live here in the US and They Congress in 1986 and not since then voted on how many? People groups how many visas go to each group of people so there are four categories like broad categories family employment refugee and diversity diversity visas are We have less than three percent of our population that is from X countries. So we’re going to give some visas to that country it’s a diversity visa so you cannot get a Diversity visa, if you’re from India or Mexico, you know, there are lots of people here from some countries So they we’re not offering diversity visas to those countries right now okay, so One minute with somebody beside you how much what percentage of that number would you give to those four categories? Just talk amongst yourselves Okay, I’m going to post all together just because we have I think one minute so um Just raise your hand if you would give the largest percentage of those visas to family members of people Who are currently living in the u.s Okay, raise your hand if you would give the largest number our percentage of that number to people who are coming here for work Okay, and what about people who are refugees? Look at you all and then for diversity visas, what if you give the largest percentage? Okay, this is what Congress actually decided to do in 1986 So actually Congress decided to give 226,000 visas every year to people who currently have family in the US and you can petition but not for Every family member just for siblings spouses or parents Not grandparents not aunts and uncles not cousins And children children are included employment-based visas 140,000 a year and Refugees word we’re really um, these executive orders are kind of moving that number down. It used to be a hundred and ten then it went down to 50,000 and we just learned yesterday that next year, it’s gonna be thirty thousand so that Numbers going down every single year and then diversity visas are remaining at fifty thousand a year So that’s where you know as you you can see that Congress made some Decisions, right? So we when we go back to that piece where I talked about my moral compass and the values that I have those inform this right so Congress Made some really You know Thoughtful maybe decisions about wha do we value? Here in the US and this is what Congress decided that we value that this country values So that whether or not that again, this was 1986 and Congress has not touched the numbers except for these because of our presidents with executive orders But Congress has not touched these so we the the people the voting people of the United States have not weighed in on this since 1986 Okay, so I think I have time for some questions and I we’re not going to talk about all the other things I was going to talk about How long it takes to get to the United States as you can see some people if you if you applied for a family member Your this is how long you have to wait if you applied in 2011 your your right now you get to Actually bring that family member over For people these are for siblings. It takes 13 years to get here It’s a long time those are that’s because of how many visas we have. I was going to talk about refugees and asylees We’re not going to talk about that and the unaccompanied minors So these are things that I wanted to talk about, but I don’t think we’ll have time but you know these are things that I care deeply about and we just Maybe another time we can talk about that

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