Internship on Mexican Border an Eye-opening Experience
Kyla Wojtas was sitting on the porch of Annunciation House on the Texas-Mexico border when a woman with two children, fleeing violence in Juarez, approached her.
“She told me that she had absolutely no place to go, and someone had just tried to slit her throat,” says the Alma College senior from Macomb. “I don’t mean to be graphic, but people need to know this is happening.”
Wojtas, a political science and Foreign Service major, interned over the summer at Annunciation House, an organization that provides emergency hospitality to immigrants of the Texas-Mexico border region.
Kyla Wojtas, center, with two residents of Annunciation House
She first learned about the organization last February while participating in a one-week Alternative Break experience in El Paso, Tex.
“When I visited, I was extremely moved by the mission and spirit of the house,” she says. “It proved to be a really incredible experience.”
During her internship, Wojtas worked primarily with immigrants from Latin America, though there also were guests from all over the world, including Eritrea and Iran. Managing a clothing bank and organizing guest education and recreation activities were a few of her responsibilities.
“All interns and volunteers maintained the house and interviewed immigrants to see if they were a good fit for the house, which has a capacity of 65,” she says. “If there wasn’t enough space, we recommended them to other shelters in the area.”
Guests are assigned a contact person, who meets with them a few times a week to check on their progress and connect them to legal, medical and educational resources.
“I felt hopeless and helpless at times because there is such a lack of acceptance in our country for immigrants,” says Wojtas. “I heard stories everyday that were just heartbreaking. It was hard living with these guests and seeing firsthand the pain they were in.”
Kyla Wojtas with friends at Annunciation House
While Wojtas was in El Paso, a 15-year-old boy was shot by Border Patrol, inspiring her to help organize a procession through the city. In addition, she participated in a memorial mass in honor of the other 17 people who died under similar circumstances.
“It was an extremely powerful event because it took place right across from where the boy was shot,” she says. “The busiest street in El Paso was shut down completely for the procession.”
Wojtas is still in contact with many of the guests she met through Annunciation House. One of the immigrants recently updated her on the status of his court case, which was scheduled for Sept. 12.
“He is a torture victim, and his case was going to decide whether or not he would be granted asylum,” she says. “It got pushed back to December 2012. He can’t get a work permit, and he doesn’t have a single penny to his name. If he goes back to his country, he will be killed.”
Though she is hesitant to say she made a difference this summer, Wojtas says the experience has helped to prepare her for a career in immigration law.
“Before this summer, I hadn’t thought about pursuing immigration law, but now I’m 100 percent sure that’s what I want to do,” she says. “I feel like I was able to show support to the immigrant community, and I took a stand.”
Posted: Sat, September 18th, 2010 at 2:28PM