On my very last day a migrant farmworker advocate in southeastern Minnesota, I drove through 90-degree heat, no A/C, to meet a client in Rochester, Minnesota. I was technically off the clock by this point, but it didn’t matter. After several years of answering immigration questions and putting together a U-Visa case, my organization had finally received her temporary work permit. I had it in hand, ready to deliver it to her in person.
As I walked into the Rochester office, this client was there with her two children. I was only running a few minutes late, but she had been there early. When I opened the envelope and showed her the glossy card that represented work, money, sustenance, sustainability, a better for her family, Ms. Calvillo needed no translation – she instantly knew what it was. I gave her the entire packet, explaining that this work permit was valid only while her U-Visa application was pending, but I don’t know if she heard anything beyond “Here – this is for you. Este es por usted, finalmente.” Driving away in my sun-baked car, her smile and warm gratitude will stay with me as long as I practice law.
Earlier this week, in that same office, I had to tell a gentleman that he could never apply for citizenship. After 50 hours on his case and over three years of waiting, we finally realized that this gentleman, who had suffered from retrograde amnesia due to a serious car accident, had voted in an election and was therefore permanently barred from ever becoming a citizen. To see his hopes dashed, despite the fact that he had only been trying to be a good citizen, to see him fold up the naturalization questions he’d been studying rigorously, to see him slowly realize that he will never be able to take that oath – this was the hardest conversation I endured all summer.
And so I will go back to law school, while the migrant farmworkers continue cutting the corn off the cobs, continue canning the sweetness into tin shapes, continue standing for ten-hour shifts, continue wondering when the first frost will come and send them home jobless, continue saving and saving to make it through another year trying unsuccessfully to find work in the Rio Grande Valley of Texas, continue sending their children to Migrant Headstart programs and summer classes hoping their children will have it better than they.