Where are they now?

Where are they now?: Jacob Brescia-Weiler

In the “Where are they now?” series, we introduce you to former IJC Fellows and share their stories — how they became a Fellow and how their Fellowship experience informs their work today.

Jacob Brescia-Weiler, a 2018 Community Fellow with Project Hospitality, is wrapping up his 1L year at UC Davis School of Law.

What are you most proud of from your time as a Fellow?

I’m proud of adapting to a lot of difficult situations. There was a lot of self-sufficiency required. We had supervisors in place, but we only met with them once a week, so a lot of the time it was just us, 22- and 23-year-olds, meeting with people who saw us as attorneys, even though we would constantly remind them that we were not attorneys. It was definitely intimidating, in terms of carrying that level of responsibility. But I was proud of adapting to that and finding ways to help clients and be honest with them at the same time. Meeting with that volume of clients improved my client interaction skills tremendously, and really prepared me to go into law school.

I’m also proud of being able to represent clients at USCIS interviews and learning to strike a balance between letting people speak for themselves and figuring out when it was appropriate to intervene, just to make sure the USCIS officer was not taking advantage of their power.

What is advice that you would give to a Fellow on their first day?

Be patient with yourself, which is cliché, but also, I think, true. There’s a very steep learning curve, from doing the three-week training to then jumping right into conducting intakes. Immigration law is super complicated and often intentionally so, so be patient, ask for help and recognize what a strong network of advocates IJC has.

I got used to asking questions to attorneys who just happened to be in the office. Be assertive and proactive about getting the resources and information you need to help your clients. As a Community Fellow, you’re in a unique position as an intermediary between community members and institutions, so lean into it. Sometimes that means you have to be a little bit annoying about getting information, or bother your higher ups about a case that’s been pending for a long time. Sometimes you just have to call USCIS repeatedly until you get the answers you need.

How did the Fellowship contribute to your decision to stay in the immigration field?

IJC definitely positioned me to continue in the field, and I’m super grateful that I took the time to get so much practical hands-on experience before law school. For me, it was important to go into law school really knowing what I wanted to do. I wanted to be sure of why I was going. And my experience at IJC, working with a lot of clients, gave me a pretty good sense of how the immigration system works. And I learned that part of that is not being too idealistic, or coming in with any sort of savior complex thinking ‘oh, I’m gonna change this.’

And so I’m very grateful that I entered law school with a more realistic perspective on what a career in this field will look like. And while I recognize the many challenges, I think the fact that I still want to go into the field reflects well on IJC and how they have prepared me.