Overall, working at Tahirih was an extremely rewarding experience. I’ve gotten exposure to how a small-scale office functions, experienced frustration with getting through the government’s red tape and complex, shifting policies, and learned hands-on how to apply trauma-informed techniques working with mostly female clients affected by domestic or gender-based violence. I was definitely confronted with the experience of burnout, which is present in a lot of social justice work but particularly in an office that serves many victims of traumatizing sexual, physical, and psychological abuse. I was appreciative that Tahirih gives its employees tools for coping with burnout and practicing self-care; we even had a day where the entire staff left the office early to go to an aromatherapy shop together. I gained valuable exposure not just to legal work but also to individuals who can help mentor me in future paths: staff attorneys who practice immigration and family law, as well as fellow intern law students with varying kinds of masters degrees and experiences.
My most impactful project of the summer was the Know Your Rights resources flyer I created and a Family Preparedness Plan toolkit. I hope that the office will be able to use these resources to give clients the information they need to defend themselves against immigration enforcement in Maryland. I even shared these resources with Tahirih’s DC office, which will be able to use them as templates for their locations across the country. The most personally rewarding experience was working one-on-one with a client on their VAWA (Violence Against Women Act) declaration. It emotionally impacted me to hear a client’s story firsthand, and to be able to use their story to help them get immigration status and a path to safety. Additionally, listening to the client’s story made me especially appreciative of Tahirih’s unique comprehensive model that gives its clients services in immigration law, family law, and social services. It is now difficult to imagine individuals reliving their trauma in the immigration system without the additional support of social services such as those that Tahirih offers.
Something I wish I had known before I started, which is something to keep in mind going into any kind of work with immigrant or victim clients (particularly domestic/gender-based violence victims), is to be conscious of the emotional toll this kind of work takes and how to cope with it. Anyone hearing these clients’ stories on a regular basis is vulnerable to experiencing second-hand trauma, and it is important to practice self-care by taking appropriate breaks, working from home as needed, getting enough sleep and finding activities at home that are calming. I wish I had known more about my own personal limits and what kind of self-care works for me prior to the internship, but I was appreciative that the staff members were supportive in helping me figure it out and making my schedule extremely flexible.
Working at Tahirih was an extremely positive and rewarding experience in which I learned about working with vulnerable immigrant individuals in a healthy, emotionally-supportive environment.