Elana Metsch-Ampel, Class of 2012

Elana Metsch-Ampel, Class of 2012“Can you help me? You help so many people here.” The question goes through my head in rapid Spanish with a thick Peruvian accent, and I quickly convert the words into English before repeating the sentiment to my boss, Lori, who is sitting across from me at a small round table in a tight conference room. We are conducting an intake interview with an asylum seeker; I am the interpreter. My boss responds in English that we’re trying; that we do our best, and by the time Lori’s words hit the client’s ears in Spanish, a look of relief comes over their face. I am an intern and interpreter in the Refugee Protection Program (RPP) at Human Rights First (HRF), a non-profit organization located just outside of Chelsea in Manhattan. RPP serves as the middleman between clients who are seeking asylum and lawyers working in powerful law firms throughout NYC who take the cases on pro bono. We interview clients, determine if we can accept their case, assemble a case packet, and then farm the cases out to lawyers throughout the city. Our on-staff attorneys, Lori and Anwen, are available to offer legal advice and guidance, as well as insight on the many advocacy campaigns taking place within the program, many of whose efforts are based on the personal stories of clients we represent. My summer long task is to conduct “Case Status Update” (CSU), a project which undertakes updating all of RPP’s open cases. The project is complex and tedious, but it is incredibly satisfying to learn of client’s progress. I also serve as an interpreter which is by far the most rewarding and challenging part of my summer experience. I know that I am the only chance the Spanish-speaker has to convey their life story in the hopes of receiving help. I am not a native speaker, and there are times when I inadvertently answer my English-speaking boss in Spanish, and a client in English. Luckily for me, my bosses are patient. Another one of my tasks is to write the intake summary, which includes a narrative of the asylum seeker’s story, a detailed procedural posture explaining how the potential client came to the U.S., a credibility assessment, and an explanation of fear of return. It also includes detailed footnotes explaining country conditions on the client’s country of origin, to assist their lawyers in preparing their argument. This summer I have been challenged to my fullest; my Spanish listening and speaking skills, writing and organizational skills are improving everyday. The people I have met at HRF are smart and patient, savvy and instructive. They work hard to ensure that people have a lifeline in America, and I am proud to be a part of their team. I chose to apply to this internship because of my passion for social justice work, and my empathy for the plight of immigrants. I also wanted an opportunity to utilize my Spanish everyday. I can’t believe how lucky I have gotten. I am never sitting idle, and I have gotten to work as a translator, which has taught me how interested I am in the field of interpretation as a possible career. I am absolutely loving my experience at this organization, and although we’re in the middle of a big, slightly stressful CSU push, I am proud to be able to honestly respond to clients and people who ask me about my summer experience that by saying that yes, we do help many people here.