Courageous people in our communities are reaching out and supporting some of the most vulnerable migrants in our midst. In Texas, Casa Marianella provides a home and stability to many migrants, such as those who are temporarily homeless, injured, were previously detained, or seeking asylum. Today, I’d like to share an interview with Jennifer Long, Executive Director of Casa Marianella. LIRS Media Relations Specialist Clarissa Perkins conducted the email interview.
Clarissa Perkins (CP): What past experience first led you to become involved with migrants?
Jennifer Long (JL): I became involved with immigrants when I worked organizing in opposition to military aid to Central America in the early 80s. I started hearing about refugees coming to the US in early 1982. I decided gradually that I was more interested in direct service to individuals than trying to change US policy. By 1984 I had started doing social services in the immigrant community more than political work. I’ve been doing that pretty consistently for the past 30 years. I became the ED of Casa Marianella in 1998.
CP: How do migrants and those who are homeless generally find or hear about Casa Marianella?
JL: People hear about Casa Marianella through word of mouth, either in the community of Austin or in immigration detention centers. Lawyers also refer their clients for asylum to us. We get referrals from the public hospital when immigrants with injuries and sickness who have nowhere to go. Right now we’re even getting some people who hear about us while in detention in California and Louisiana.
CP: What do you like best about the work you do?
JL: I like everything about my job: the stories of the people we serve, seeing people move toward stability, working as a team with AmeriCorps members who are learning about what they want to do with their lives, adapting to the changes in the immigrant population, raising money, managing volunteers, working with the board. Most of all I like doing shifts at Casa and being surprised that each day is so different from every other.
CP: What aspect of your work do you believe has the most impact?
JL: I think there are three things that make a great impact about our work.
First, we’re making a real difference in the lives of individuals who greatly need a hand. We’re able to be there to help them see how to get started. Second, we provide a place for volunteers and other community members to come into direct contact with immigrants. This makes the people who come through our doors come out with a fresh perspective. It’s also a great service to our residents to provide opportunities to meet people from the community. Third, we work with AmeriCorps members. After a year at Casa Marianella, the staff members go on to become lawyers, nurses, organizers, and public policy advocates. The discernment and formation that Casa staff receives is evident in their future lives after they leave us.
CP: If you could change one thing about the current immigration system, what would you change?
JL: One aspect of the immigration system I would like to see is a “line” like the one that most Americans thinks already exists: a line in which one waits to demonstrate that they have been working, paying taxes, and staying out of trouble. People who wait in that line could be rewarded with papers. This is not only the American dream, it’s what most Americans think is already happening. No one is asking to throw open the doors. We’re asking for an orderly system with transparent requirements and a hope of being treated fairly.