Throughout my life, my mother always taught me that kindness is the most important thing. This principle was instilled in me at a very young age, and every day I try to live by it. Coming to Brandeis, I have realized that the social issues we face today cannot be solved by kindness alone. While being good natured is an important way to live life, the social justice issues we are confronted with today need to be met by our own awareness and willingness to initiate change.
During the first semester of my freshman year, I took the Immigrant Experience Practicum with Professor Marci McPhee. During Professor McPhee’s course, we were able to volunteer at various organizations in Waltham that work directly with the immigrant community. During class, we reflected on our experiences and discussed the difficulties this population faces such as misconceptions, stereotypes, and negative stigma surrounding immigrants.
For the duration of the course, I spent my time working at the Prospect Hill Community Center, an education-based after school center for children in the heart of Prospect Hill, the area with the largest immigrant population in Waltham. More often than not, English was the second language of many of the families at the center, and they struggled with the language barrier. Speaking little to no English, many of them faced significant difficulties navigating an unfamiliar education system. Not only was this challenging enough, these families often faced forms of discrimination and intimidation relating to their immigrant status. This intimidation and fear among members of the community was highlighted following the 2016 presidential election, when many children were absent from the center and school. We believed these absences were closely related to the fear surrounding their immigration status and Trump’s viewpoints on immigration.
At the Harvard Legal Aid Bureau, I am able to observe similar situations with our clients and the court systems. The majority of our clients are immigrants and English is their second language. In particular, there are many housing cases involving discrimination and unfair treatment of tenants who are immigrants. In many of these cases, landlords attempt to take advantage of the language barrier present and benefit from their tenants’ lack of understanding. There have been multiple cases where landlords have used their tenants’ immigration status to intimidate them, threatening to call Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) if they are late paying rent. Other cases have involved landlords informing tenants that they will not be able to show up to court for their eviction hearing because if they do so, ICE will be waiting to detain them.
Consequently, this gives landlords a huge amount of leverage over their tenants who are immigrants and creates a significant power imbalance. Paired with the language barrier and intimidation, an immigrant trying to navigate an unfamiliar and complicated court system creates a very skewed justice system. Truly, it is not a justice system if the system is not working equally for all.
If our office is ever split between electing cases, our organization will always attempt to represent the client with the lower proficiency in the English language, because we understand that they may be more susceptible to unfair processes and uncertainty.
Working at the Bureau, I am able to apply what I have learned during my time at Brandeis. I have the power to choose to not be complicit in the stigma society creates around immigrants, and when working with immigrants, to be aware of all subconscious biases society has instilled. As a member of the Brandeis community and a global citizen, I hope to use my awareness as a tool to educate, advocate for, and empower others. Fair doesn’t mean equal, and I am determined to use my awareness to work in opposition to some of the greatest social injustices of our time.