Karla Davis, FirstGEN Fellow: Exploring Social Justice, Becoming an Agent for Change

Aug 8, 2014
Karla Davis

In hindsight, I’m not sure what I was thinking when I decided to attend a faith-based university in an affluent suburb of Kansas City. In May, as I sat in queue to walk across the stage and receive my diploma, I was at a loss as to how I would implement all of the motivational speeches and advice handed to college graduates. In this recent graduate daze, I arrived in DC this summer. The last few weeks have been not only been enlightening as to what it means to engage in public policy and to serve the rights of immigrants, but have also solidified my commitment to public service. In the same way, coming from a faith-based university has been an important point of connection for the work that is being done and what is yet to be accomplished by the faith community as advocates of dignity for all immigrants.

Thus far, through the FirstGEN Civil Rights Fellowship (in partnership with CLINIC, the Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, and the National Immigration Law Center), this year’s four fellows have explored a wide array of social justice issues, developed professional skills, and looked at career mapping options. The program runs on the basis that first generation college students deserve the successes that are not generally given to those who come from disadvantaged backgrounds. The knowledge gained can then be used to invest in the common good. We are learning skills to grow intellectually and personally in order to empower others to believe that their story matters and that everyone has the right to influence the policies that most affect them.

Similarly, CLINIC has been an ideal placement for me. In the Legalization section, we have been busy ensuring that our affiliates are as prepared as possible for comprehensive immigration reform (CIR) or any big changes in immigration policy. The most challenging aspect of the work has been discouragement experienced by the lack of congressional action in terms of CIR. Speaking with affiliates, the pressing nature of implementing a sustainable solution to this deeply complex and controversial issue is made clearer. Those who provide direct legal services to immigrant populations in need have insurmountable sets of obstacles to overcome. Witnessing CLINIC’s role in coming alongside them to provide necessary support has been a highlight of my time here. Knowing that there is a positive impact occurring in the lives of those in need has been a rewarding process to be a part of. My time in the Legalization department and with CLINIC has been an incomparable learning experience.

The topic of immigration has become personal to me not only because of the insight gained during my time here, but also due to my background.  As young children, my mother brought my sister and me to Los Angeles, CA from Mexico, undocumented.  In search of a better life, like so many, my mom chose to risk her life to help her children gain a good education, and the promise of reward for those who work hard. Not an uncommon story as we think about the recent issues of unaccompanied minors arriving from Central America. Through a long and complex process, I have been able to gain residency in the U.S. It has not been without trial, however, and the continued efforts of those seeking to fix inhumane and ineffective immigration laws have my utmost support and understanding. As the inaugural FirstGEN fellow for CLINIC, this has been a moving experience because of my personal attachment to the issue.

All in all, while the professional development skills were vital, perhaps the most important lessons I have learned this summer are those that discuss the need to promote public service. The ethic of self-interest permeates society too deeply. It is within us all to tackle the deeply complex, unjust, and hostile conflicts of the world with the formidable solution of understanding and kinship. FirstGEN and CLINIC have taught me that there is no time like the present for faith-based organizations and their allies to bear the burdens of others as if they were our own and exemplify the compassion that not many have the courage to bestow.

*Karla Davis is a FirstGEN Fellow with the Catholic Legal Immigration Network, Inc.