Law Office of Desmond Dawuni, Esq., South Orange, NJ
I spent the past two months working for a law firm located in a suburb of Newark, N.J. I was therefore serving one of the most diverse cities in the U.S., where immigrants and foreign-born residents make up 29% of the population and 48% of homes speak a primary language other than English; and one of the most impoverished, with a poverty rate of 28.3%. Desmond Dawuni, Attorney at Law and head of the office, assumed the role of supervisor during my summer internship.
Desmond is the main immigration attorney in the office, and I assisted him by interpreting and providing advice on migration, citizenship and business immigration issues, political asylum, and on the processes through which people may secure travel, work or student visas. He also represents clients in immigration proceedings in U.S. Immigration Courts, which was a process heavily impacted by the Covid pandemic. The practice is centered on community advancement, and the chief mission driving our work was accordingly to obtain green cards for those seeking legal residency so that our clients enjoy the same rights and privileges as their neighbors.
My work included the typical summer intern duties—answering phones and writing emails—but it certainly was not limited to that. One of my main projects was assisting on a case involving domestic spousal abuse. It spurred much thinking for me on the intersection between domestic abuse and illegal immigration status, where the former is characterized by movement being essential and yet is complicated by the latter making movement or missteps dangerous. I also spent some time at the courthouse in Newark, where I received a rundown of the different processes undergone by the lawyers dealing with USCIS, Homeland Security, ICE, and the state and federal courts.
As a first-gen student and an American, it was rewarding to observe the specificities of working in the private sector because it’s a lifestyle classically leveled alongside the American Dream. But I found myself wondering about the practicality of working in that system without doing much by way of reforming America’s capricious immigration system. Frankly, I found it difficult to imagine making the money that private practice lawyers can make knowing that the income would be generated from charging market price to an immigrant community like those in Newark. But as a thesis-writer this year on the concept of origins in relation to violence, trauma, and migration, my internship was rewarding both professionally and intellectually. This job allowed me to help channel my academic interests into a career and in a socially conscious manner. The work I pursued centers itself not on blind obedience to the laws and regulation of U.S. immigration law, but on the understanding that these laws can disempower and entrap hardworking people who are American by livelihood, if not yet by law. I’m very grateful for the opportunity given to me by the ’68 Center for Career Exploration and the Class of 1972 to explore my interests this summer and gain work experience.