A Postcard From: Madeleine Maier ’19

Name: Madeleine Maier
Class Year: 2019
Major: International Studies in the Middle East, Francophone Studies
Hometown: Eugene, Ore.
Internship Placement: VITALS (Valley Immigration Training, Advocacy, and Legal Services)
Job Title: Extern
Location: Springfield, Ore.

What’s happening at your internship?

VITALS is a new nonprofit in the Eugene/Springfield area. They provide low-cost legal services to immigrants in the area, as well as clients all over the U.S. Another mission of the organization is the education of students in immigration law, so I have been very lucky to have an internship that is not centered around making copies or filing. Instead, I am getting the chance to experience many parts of the process: researching asylum cases, meeting with clients, filing out DACA and U-VISA paperwork, observing immigration court, and writing reports.

Why did you apply for this internship?

I was interested in doing some kind of work with immigrants or asylum seekers, so that I could understand the U.S. processes more and maybe have a chance to practice my Arabic, French, and Spanish. I also really appreciate the emphasis on learning for the student interns.

Was this internship what you expected it to be?

My internship has been really hands on. Even in my first morning I helped to interview a client for her asylum case, and later wrote up the report. I really love getting the chance to do so many different things in the office and I’m happy to have the chance to work directly with clients, which also helps with my language skills. I’ve also really enjoyed doing research for asylum cases, which require lots of documentation of human rights violations in the client’s home country. For this, I read through newspaper articles, government reports, NGO reports, and academic studies to support our clients’ claims. I am learning a lot about specific human rights issues in different countries, and although it can be hard to read about, it feels very important.

What has been the biggest challenge you have faced at your internship?

The most difficult part of my internship is how emotionally taxing it can be. Asking clients to relive the worst memories of their lives, sometimes for the first time, can feel like a huge responsibility. It’s also difficult to see how few of the cases are accepted by the court—so much of it seems to be down to chance and the mood of the judge that day. The system is unfair and broken, and it can be hard to watch our clients struggle through it. There are no guarantees, as much as we wish there were, and so empathy and compassion are a huge part of the work that I am doing.