This summer, HRI had the privilege of welcoming one of our former employees back to our office – this time as a legal intern. Khiabett Osuna worked at HRI for just one short year, but her love of this work brought her back. If you ever meet Khiabett, you will be immediately swept away by her spunky attitude, her quick wit, and her fierce passion for the work she does. Khiabett – thank you for sharing that with us again this summer! Here are a few words from Khiabett herself.
In August 2011 I had just graduated from college and I received an email from a Miss Zainab informing me that HRI wanted to interview me for the administrative assistant position. I was so excited that I immediately went out and bought an interview dress. A few days later I arrived at HRI’s office wearing my new dress, and introduced myself to the outgoing admin assistant, Maria. She greeted me warmly, told me someone would be out for me shortly, and as soon as I turned around to sit down in the lobby she informed me that my dress had ripped open in the back. Before I could even start panicking, Maria pulled out a pink cardigan and let me borrow it. I finished the interview, returned the cardigan, thanked Maria profusely, and accepted my first job ever. Since that first interview, I have not encountered anything but kindness and warmth at HRI.
During my year working the front desk at HRI, I learned so much information that it was exhilarating and overwhelming at the same time. I learned how to juggle multiple calls at the same time, how to have a phone conversation in Spanish while writing an email in English, how to fire up the coffeemaker in the mornings and how to fix a paper jam in the printer. I also learned how to keep my emotions in check when hearing a woman tell me how her husband had savagely beaten her in front of her children, and I learned how to fight back tears when a man who was seeking asylum cried in front of me because he could not find a translator to help him during his screening interview. I also learned how it felt when a woman hugged me and thanked me for helping her get her green card, even though all I did was mail out her application. I learned how to smile at every man, woman, and child that walked through our doors, and how to greet them with a kind word, because no matter what kind of day I was having, it was nothing compared to the abuse they had suffered at some point in their lives.
I loved working at HRI and everyone that came into contact with me that year knew it. I beamed when I talked about the work that the organization did. I felt fulfilled in my work and I felt like there was a purpose in waking up and doing my job five days a week. I knew that not a lot of my recently graduated friends felt that way about their jobs and I knew that I was incredibly lucky. I considered my coworkers my friends and I loved when they would open my sliding glass window, coffee in hand, and tell me about their weekends. I trusted the staff so much that when I did burst into tears the first time at work, I sat with HRI’s Legal Director, Chris, in her office and cried until I had no tears to spare. Bill became Executive Director halfway through my year at HRI, and when I messed up in ordering his business cards, instead of firing me on the spot he gently told me to be more careful in the future. I knew that this warmth at HRI was also a fiery passion in seeing our clients succeed when I sat in on an appointment with Carol, a volunteer attorney, and her client and she asked me to translate, word for word, from English to Spanish “Don’t mess up this chance. Stay. In. School.”
I graduated college not knowing what I wanted to do next, but after that year at HRI, I knew I had to become a lawyer. I had to stay involved with this work, to help those that needed it the most and felt like they were in the shadows and could not ask for help. I wanted to help out the same way that everyone at HRI did, and for me, the next step would have to be law school. When I emailed Bill to tell him that I had been accepted to DePaul’s College of Law, I joked that he might one day read my application for an intern position. He emailed me back, “wouldn’t that be grand!”
Friday I finished my ten weeks as a summer intern at HRI and I can say that it has been nothing but grand. There were new faces in the office, but I still felt that same warmth and kindness from everyone I interacted with. I worked with Marcela in the Immigrant Children’s Project and with Melissa in the Women and Children’s Program. Marcela was patient with me as she helped me understand the world of Special Immigrant Juvenile Status (SIJS) applications and edited my first brief as an intern. Marcela helped me understand the nuances of the court systems, and how to make it seem less scary for the children and their parents. She showed me how to speak kindly and easily to children and ask them about their terrifying travels to the U.S., and how to advocate strongly and passionately for our “kiddos.” I was finally able to work under Melissa, HRI’s resident Wonder Woman. I was reminded of the kind of lawyer I want to be every time I sat next to her during meetings with clients and I heard her gracefully explain the complex legal process to them and when she smiled at them and brought warmth into the room, while clients told stories that would make other people wonder what kind of world we were living in.
My first time around at HRI, I found out that I wanted to be a lawyer. After this summer, I now know what kind of attorney I want to be. I want to be someone who fights for immigrants that have gone through heartbreaking experiences. I want to be someone that helps women, men, and children navigate the long and confusing immigration process, an attorney that speaks up about the flaws in the system, and actually does something to bring about this change. I want to help reunite families, give adults the chance to work, and children the opportunity to attend school without worries. More than that, I want to be an attorney that truly cares about the work I do and does it every day with the same kindness that everyone in HRI has shown to me and everyone else that has walked through these doors.
Written by Khiabett Osuna