Women’s Basketball’s Tapias Provides a Helping Hand

June 20, 2017

As a collegiate point guard, rising senior Camila Tapias is used to dishing out assists, facilitating set plays and connecting dots on the offensive end of the floor.

Those same skills, combined with her classwork in organizational sciences, psychology and criminal justice, have translated to her summer internship with the Capital Area Immigrants’ Rights (CAIR) Coalition.

“Being an immigrant myself has allowed me to observe how other immigrants in the United States who are less privileged than me suffer every day,” said Tapias. “So I decided to look for internships with organizations that are committed to social justice. I have been very passionate about human rights and social justice since I was little. When the time came for me to find an internship I came across the CAIR Coalition and I saw their mission and thought it was very in line with my values. I was really interested in the position so I applied and got the internship”

The CAIR Coalition provides legal assistance to detained immigrants in Maryland and Virginia. The organization specializes in providing legal information and resources for detainees who are unable to afford or procure the services on their own. The services provided include legal representation, educational outreach, impact and advocacy work and the training of attorneys who defend immigrants in both the immigration and criminal justice arenas.

Tapias works four days a week at the CAIR Coalition. When in the office she answers phone calls and returns messages on the CAIR Coalition Hot Line and has found her bilingual skills to be a huge plus.

“The majority of detainees are from Central and South America so it is crucial that we have bilingual workers,” explained Tapias. “When answering or returning calls we take down information, help facilitate application processes and try to find them pro-bono attorneys.”

 

 

Working the phones at the CAIR Coalition offices can be daunting work. Between fielding new phone calls, returning messages and making follow-up calls a typical 9 a.m.-5 p.m. work day can be gone in a flash.

“There can be twenty phone calls in a day,” explained Tapias. “And then when I check the messages there can be 20 new calls on top of that. I have to listen to each call, enter them in the system and then return those calls. You have to move fast to get back to people before it is too late. I get really invested and I want to return these calls as fast as I can. But, before I know it I check the time and it is 5:30 p.m. At the end of the day I feel good because I am providing real help to these people so it is very gratifying. Working the phones is powerful but at the same time it can be very frustrating. We have a lot of volunteers that answer the hotline but the detainees only have a maximum of 15 minutes for each call. So the pressure is on to translate and pass along information as fast as possible.”

Not all of Tapias’ work with the CAIR Coalition is on the phone. In addition to research and administrative tasks, she has made a number of site visits to local detention centers to speak in person with detainees. Her bilingual skills make her a good candidate to go on visits so she can provide translation in real time.

“They trust the interns a lot and give us a lot of responsibility,” said Tapias. “I was able to go on a jail visit to a detention center in Farmville, Virginia, and it was an eye-opening experience. The environment is really bad and it was a shock to see. We did a lot of intakes, talking with people to see if we could take on their case. We also did follow-ups on previous cases, helping people obtain attorneys or helping them apply for asylum. I also have gone to immigration court in Arlington a few times to actually hear these cases in person. I take notes and take this information back to the office and facilitate the notes to our employees and then reach back out to the clients.”

Tapias is still not sure what kind of career she wants to pursue following graduation. She has debated law school or obtaining her masters degree in forensic psychology as possibilities. One thing is for certain; her work with the CAIR Coalition has reaffirmed her passion for social justice.

“Without a doubt, this internship has been one of the best experiences that I’ve ever been involved in,” said Tapias. “The impactful work I do on a daily basis and the CAIR Coalition’s mission and goals aligns directly with my passion to help other people in any way possible.”

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