Ivón Padilla-Rodriguez shares her experiences of volunteering with The Door, a youth services organization that provides a range of educational, legal, health, and development services in NYC. Ivón’s participation in The Door’s Legal and Immigration services was supported by a History in Action Research Assitantship (HARA).
When I arrived at Columbia in the fall of 2015, I knew I wanted to pair my studies and research with practical experiences directly relevant to my interests. My current research project is about the experiences of migrant and resident Mexican-American children from the American Southwest who picked crops on farms. My research looks at the ways they were marginalized by US labor laws of the New Deal; their experiences as children of immigrants and as agricultural laborers; and the conceptions of childhood adhered to by farm owners, child welfare advocates, and the state. More generally, I am interested in the ways the state is influenced by certain conceptions of childhood when making laws and policies; how immigrant children and children of immigrants are perceived by the state; and how young immigrants or children of immigrants invert age hierarchies, defy adults’ expectations, and teach us new insights about race, class, gender, and labor. Professionally, I hope to use my skills as a historian and researcher to advise on policies that impact immigrant families and their children by working for a non-profit organization, think tank, or government entity.
My general research interests in immigration and childhood brought me to The Door during the 2015-2016 school year after having been connected to them through the New York City Mayor’s Office of Immigrant Affairs. When I started volunteering with The Door, I did translation and legal screenings for them in federal immigration court. The organization is composed of a group of lawyers who take on cases of unaccompanied, Central American children and youth in deportation proceedings. The organization also refers cases to other pro bono or “low bono” lawyers in the New York City area.
By volunteering in court, I gained legal knowledge concerning different types of relief from deportation. I also gained direct, firsthand experience with immigrant youth currently navigating the US immigration system. I had the opportunity to listen to their stories, beginning with the circumstances of their upbringing in their countries of origin, to their trek to and entrance into the United States. These interviews were not unlike oral histories of our discipline.
The History in Action’s Research Assistantship grant relieved me of my teaching duties during the 2017 spring semester to pursue a part-time internship at The Door. My HARA gave me the opportunity to devote more of my time to The Door and continue volunteering in court. Throughout the spring semester, I continued to conduct legal screenings with migrant children. I also translated numerous documents from El Salvador, Honduras, Guatemala, Ecuador, and Mexico from Spanish to English; helped to organize Know Your Rights sessions for these young people; and drafted legal documents.
I was able to identify the similarities of unaccompanied Central American children’s narratives to those I focus on in my historical research. Some of these similarities might include the prevalence of agricultural child labor among both groups of young people and the ways in which the phenomenon of immigration forces children to illuminate different conceptions of childhood and invert traditional age hierarchies. Moreover, by working with the lawyers on staff at The Door, I had the opportunity to network with professionals within the law, non-profit, and immigration advocacy world. I was also introduced to the ways practitioners approach some of the same problems I am interested in.
I am extremely grateful I had the opportunity to intern at The Door in the spring 2017 semester. My HiA-funded service to The Door allowed me the unique opportunity to curate my professional training and examine the practical applications of my historical scholarship. It also sufficiently prepared me for my current summer internship with FM4: Paso Libre, a non-profit migrant shelter in Guadalajara, Jalisco that provides humanitarian support for Central American migrants in transit through Mexico and produces research about this same group of people. History in Action’s programs have made it possible for me to take my skills as a historian outside of academia and adopt new insights after having worked directly with immigrant youth at their destination and while in transit.