The Importance of a Light-hearted Work Culture at CAIR Coalition

I did not know what to really expect before starting my internship at CAIR Coalition, an organization that provides legal and social services to immigrants at risk for detention and deportation. I was unsure how an organization dependent on face-to-face interaction could adapt to the circumstances related to COVID. On my first day, I was surprised at how organized everything seemed. Everyone communicates through Microsoft teams and the schedule for interns was well-thought-out in advance. The first two-weeks the interns are going through training before we all separate from our perspective department. 

Throughout the training, I was able to learn more about the organization’s structure and history. Overall, CAIR Coalition has 3 main programs: the Detained Adult Program (DAP), the Detained Unaccompanied Children’s Program (DUCs), and the Lab. Within the Detained Adult Program there are 3 sub-team: The first team is called the Legal Orientation Program (LOP) which they are responsible for visiting the 5 detention centers in the DMV area to provide “know your rights” presentations, individual orientations, and Pro-se workshops. They first prepare for a visit by printing out every necessary form for the workshops (since you cannot bring any devices into the facilities and delivering messages from staff to migrants that were already seen prior to a visit. During a visit, each staff/volunteer conducts intakes in order to assess if CAIR coalition can help them. After gathering the information, staff members review the intakes and create individualized messages which will be delivered in the next visit. Through the LOP, they decide which cases the organization can help provide relief. The other 2 programs sub-teams are Universal Representation and NQRP, which both are composed of attorney’s that help migrants in their cases. The Detained Unaccompanied Children’s Program it helps provide social and legal services to children who arrive in the U.S. without a parent or guardian. They visit the facilities weekly to give know your rights presentations and to gather more information about each child. Lastly, there is the Immigration Impact lab which is the litigation shop of CAIR Coalition. If they identify a problem that multiple migrants face, such as if there’s a systematic problem, instead of facing the same problem individually they try to create change through changing laws. 

Although this was only my first week, it seems there is a lot of trust between each staff member from all different levels. Everyone spoke highly of each other and it seems that everyone works well as a team, which is crucial for this organization. There are bi-weekly town hall meetings where staff members and interns can discuss topics that there is not enough time for in staff meetings. Everyone was respectful towards the senior staff members who were leading the meeting. They did not rudely question the leaders or had an obvious attitude. For the most part, everyone is very friendly and the organization tries to create increased bonds between the staff by holding bi-weekly virtual yoga classes and having events like Bingo Night (which I was able to attend and even won one round!). I believe that there is a strong and friendly work culture because oftentimes the work that everyone does is heavy and deals with people who have been abused, neglected, and traumatized. So, whenever there is a chance to interact with staff, people like to joke around and they recognize that there is not a need to be serious all the time. There are many spaces where people can get to know each other well, and I believe this is one of the reasons why everyone works so well together.