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Got my first job working with Americans for Immigrant Justice

Got my first job working with Americans for Immigrant Justice

Alumna Janelle Acevedo '21 puts her BA in anthropology and a pair of undergraduate certificates to use in her role as a shelter advocate for incoming immigrant minors

October 6, 2021 at 10:36am

Name: Janelle Acevedo

Hometown: Miami

Degree: 2021 Bachelor of Arts in Anthropology with certificates in public policy and women and gender studies; recipient of a Global Learning Medallion and Millennium Fellowship 

Where are you working? I work at Americans for Immigrant Justice (AIJ) as a shelter advocate.

How did you get your job? Applied on Idealist after seeing the organization on LinkedIn. It required a cover letter and resume. I went through the interview process and the final step was a reference check.

What was your greatest fear going into your first job, and how did you face it or overcome it?

My greatest fear was learning the heavy legal terms and procedures that are constantly changing within immigration law. However, the support from the Children’s Legal Team, supervisors, professional development opportunities and the extensive training helped me feel more confident within my role and add my professional and personal experience to find innovative ways to better serve the children in the Office of Refugee Resettlement facilities.

What surprised you the most about your first job?

What most surprised me about the role is that AIJ is constantly evaluating ways to truly serve the most vulnerable children. This is done with many trainings and all-staff webinars with immigrant-led organizations. I’m able to use my anthropological expertise to better understand country conditions that influence migration factors for indigenous children. As a student, I learned about this in the classroom and even had the privilege to go to Ecuador for a study abroad with the Kichua people. I feel fortunate to be able to use these skills in my daily role.

What advice do you have for those beginning the job search process?

Be resilient. It can be hard when you are looking for a role, especially during a pandemic. Make sure that your cover letter highlights your past experiences, but also reflects who you are, your mission, and what you bring to the table.

What does a day on the job look like?

I usually start off the day with checking the database for incoming minors at the facility and planning the visits for the next few days. The visits consist of Know Your Rights presentations and legal screening intakes to aid in helping the minors find legal help once they are united with their sponsors. An important part of my role is tracking the cases of every child and serving as a liaison between the child and their case manager to ensure their rights. At the end of each month, I’m able to do legal referrals for minors who need a lawyer to represent them in their immigration cases. My day also consists of continuous learning through cultural awareness workshops and trainings that help sharpen the organization’s commitment to diversity and inclusion. As a member of the AI Justice Diversity and Inclusion committee, I am aiding to help find strategic initiatives to recruit more diverse candidates from a myriad of different backgrounds and experiences.

How does your job connect back to your coursework?

This job connects back to my coursework because my anthropology courses focused on the “who, what, where and why.” I took coursework that focused on understanding racial history on a national and global scale. Many of my courses delved into migration patterns and push factors, which I have found very helpful in understanding the stories of the unaccompanied children. Additionally, the courses from my certificates in public policy and women and gender studies have helped me in understanding how immigration law, agencies and legislation affect the work I am able to do and how to best advocate for the minors at the facility. The multitude of global learning courses I took served in helping me understand global perspectives as someone from Central America views the world very differently from someone in Southeastern Europe.

How was your transition from school to work? How do you balance your time?

Believe it or not, I have more time on my hands now that I work full-time. My extensive experiences as a senior program assistant at the FIU Women’s Center, a student leader and through various internships/fellowships prepared me for a full-time role well. Block scheduling and passion planning is always very helpful to ensure that you are prepared and scheduling your breaks as well. It’s also helpful that the organization holds a commitment to mental health as we are in a service oriented role in which our clients are children who have been in traumatic events and are experiencing culture shock.

What’s been the coolest thing about your job so far?

The coolest part about my job is that I get to meet children from all around the world. I’m able to hear their stories and learn about different cultures. It’s incredibly rewarding to hear their stories and to be able to empower them through my work. We read about all the good and bad circumstances that occur at our borders and beyond  to be a part of the solution is all I could ever ask for.