by Dani Cooke
If you are a long-time reader of The Watermark (a.k.a. A follower of our single year of journalistic excellence), you may recall an article on the Trump administration’s attempt to terminate DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals) and its potential impacts on the Denver-Boulder community. In that article, I interviewed immigration attorney Nicole Murad Rothstein of Murad & Murad, P.C., a small law firm in Boulder, Colorado that focuses on immigrant defense, serving immigrants from many countries, especially those from Central and South America.
This past summer, inspired by the 2017 Borders & Biodiversity expedition trip to the United States-Mexico border and my perception of the increasingly troubled state of U.S. immigration policy, I had the opportunity to work with her firm as a legal intern. I expected a summer of making copies, filing documents, and perhaps the occasional case research assignment. That’s what interns do, right?
Over the course of ten thirty-hour weeks, I attended client meetings and court hearings. I researched country conditions, drafted legal briefs, and began to learn the ins and outs of case strategy development. Those who know me even somewhat well have heard me ramble endlessly about the abstract lifechanging-ness of my summer internship; it was as fulfilling an experience as it was overwhelming, and by the end of the summer, I found myself centered in the comfort that I was doing exactly what I want to do with my life.
I have found myself in the rare position of an eighteen-year-old who is already doing a job she loves, who is what she would like to be when she grows up. Learning many of the elements of immigration law, each one variable and exceptionally complex, is perhaps the most tangible outcome from my job. The most significant aspect for me, however, was something entirely different; I watched my supervisors and coworkers, some of the smartest and most compassionate people I have ever known, as they balanced their fierce caring and empathy for their clients with the necessary constraints of professionalism and the level of compartmentalism required to maintain one’s sanity in a field fraught with secondary trauma and constant uphill battles.
While spending hours pouring over the details of an asylum brief packed with stories of unbelievable trauma, attorney Autumn Nelson and I found comfort in bowls of Gardetto’s and peanut M&M’s. Court hearings are frequently followed by stops at McDonald’s and Starbucks runs. Caselaw and written motions are bound together by colorful Pac-man-ghost-shaped paperclips, and churros in the break room are a Friday-morning regularity. After one particularly painful meeting, in which a client had to recount the violent persecution she faced as a young woman in Mexico at the hands of a powerful cartel leader and his associates, Autumn took a walk to clear her head and returned with two betta fish from the nearby PetSmart (an impulse purchase which quickly became much-loved pets of her twin daughters).
Despite the intrinsically heavy nature of the work done at Murad & Murad, an air of optimism prevails. One Friday, as an office, we saw Won’t You Be My Neighbor?, a movie about the life of Fred Rogers. One line of his struck me:
“When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, ‘Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.’”
In my work with Murad & Murad, P.C., I have watched these helpers shift from distant figures to my coworkers and friends. I have looked to myself and seen a helper there as well. This learning—from the logic-based aspects of asylum claims to balance and betta fish—will guide my future as I continue to become exactly what I want to be when I grow up.