During her senior year at Union College, Emily Sullivan spent time on the Mexican-American border, where she met individuals and families who shared stories about their difficult journeys to America and the anxiety caused by not having official immigration status.
After witnessing the system in action, Emily decided she wanted to work in the immigration field to support people in attaining a more permanent, secure life in America. So, when she saw a listing to join Avodah’s class of 2018-2019 and work in the immigration field in Washington, D.C., she jumped.
“It sounded like a great opportunity to do the type of work I wanted to do in the immigration and social justice sphere,” says Emily, who spent the year with CASA, an immigration organization that serves the mid-Atlantic region.
Emily is one of 387 Avodah Service Corps Members who have found meaningful work through Avodah’s site in Washington, D.C., which celebrates its 20th anniversary this year. Corp Members annually provide thousands of hours of assistance a year to non-profits around Washington that greatly need additional people-power to meet the demand of their clients.
At CASA, the Avodah Corps Member typically works with people who have Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) status, which protects people who immigrated to the United States as children from deportation and allows them to work. Over the course of the year, the Avodah Corps Members will typically assist 500 applicants to renew their status.
“The Avodah corps members are a very integral part of our legal department,” says Lucia Curiel, the supervising immigration attorney at CASA. “They are straight out of college, but they really hit the ground running and it has real life implications for people.”
After Emily, now 27, finished her Avodah year, she stayed on at CASA. In 2020, she was promoted to legal services coordinator. Today, she is a Department of Justice-accredited representative, which allows her to legally represent a wide array of immigration cases. Now she helps people apply for green cards and works with immigrants who have been victims of a crime to secure visas.
“I feel good about my job,” Emily says.
Another highlight of her job is co-supervising the Avodah fellows along with Lucia. This year’s Corps Member, Shula Bronner, said she chose Avodah because she was looking for a post-college opportunity that would allow her to do social justice work in a supportive environment, which is exactly what she found at CASA.
“Everyone is really supportive, and I’m respected as someone who has something to add,” Shula says. “I am given a lot of independence to manage the workflow.”
For Shula, 22, working with DACA applicants has been both fulfilling and eye-opening. She says that she has seen how important the DACA status is, particularly in families where not everyone has work status.
“My DACA clients are often supporting their families because they have work status,” she explains.
Although she does not know what she wants to do when her year with Avodah comes to an end, Shula says that the Service Corps has helped her to learn what she wants.
“Avodah taught me what a supportive working environment looks like and I do know that I want to be in client-facing direct services or policy change,” Shula says. “I’ve just learned so much.”