Volunteer Spotlight: Brian Barger
How did you find out about CAIR Coalition?
Many of us in the Washington DC area were appalled to see how immigrants were coming under attack as President Trump took over the White House. It was a dark time as fear and anxiety set in across Latino and other immigrant communities across the country. Racial profiling and hate crimes spiked, as the language of hate became a new normal. The U.S. immigration services adopted indiscriminate tactics to round up immigrants they deemed “illegal,” and in so doing, ripped families apart. I decided to turn my skills as a retired journalist to becoming an advocate for immigrant rights. CAIR Coalition appeared to be a great match: It offered me an opportunity to make a positive difference in many peoples’ lives. The organization has many volunteer opportunities and so there were several ways that I could counter that hateful rhetoric with well-directed compassion.
How long have you been volunteering with CAIR Coalition?
I began working full-time for CAIR Coalition at the beginning of 2017, and have had the privilege of being a part of its dynamic growth during these past two years.
What type of volunteer work do you do for CAIR Coalition?
I started, as most volunteers do, staffing the detention center hotline, signing up for as many two-hour shifts as I could. I then began visiting immigration detention centers, conducting intakes for new arrivals and providing other assistance to folks CAIR Coalition attorneys had already been working with.
Two years ago when I began, I felt overwhelmed by the numbers of detainees at the jails we served, the numbers of detained immigrants flooding the hotline, reaching out for hope, a connection to the outside world, and, hopefully, an attorney.
I could see how few of them we could find an in-house or pro bono lawyer for.
Immigrants don’t have full due process rights. Most are poor and are forced to become their own attorneys, maneuvering through a labyrinth of immigration law in a language not their own. With each injustice I witnessed, I grew sadder yet more committed. I often went home at night and cried. But then there were many other days when the office broke out in cheers. A client had won asylum! Another was granted bond! For another, it was a long-fought fight just to reopen their case after having missed one immigration check-in.
Then, under the patient guidance of several CAIR Coalition attorneys and legal assistants, I began taking on research projects to help people establish the evidentiary foundations of their defenses against deportation. Many of them had no attorney. This work was informed in part by my years of covering Central America as a journalist. The work was guided by the most brilliant and creative attorneys in immigration law, who taught me the law – and the limits of what a non-attorney is allowed to do.
How would you describe the volunteer experience at CAIR Coalition to someone who is thinking about volunteering?
Volunteering at CAIR Coalition has been immensely rewarding for me, and the hundreds of people who have stepped forward with offers of help. For the hotline and the weekly document translation requests, which can be done from home, Spanish is very helpful. But there is so much else that non Spanish-speakers can do. For example, my church, All Souls Unitarian, has “adopted” CAIR Coalition as a core part of what we do in support of our immigrant neighbors. Many volunteers have organized fundraisers at their homes or local restaurants. We have testified before the DC Council and lobbied the Mayor; we have demanded enough in funding for immigration legal services so that every DC resident who needs an immigration lawyer can have access to one – including those who are detained.
If you have skills in grant-writing, fundraising, data, social services, healthcare, or the law, come talk to us.
What do you enjoy most about volunteering with CAIR Coalition?
CAIR Coalition is made up of people. Wonderful people with a deep sense of compassion and a commitment to leverage their skills for the benefit of humanity. They are brilliant legal experts, and win a growing number of cases. I feel lifted in their presence. They are part of what I enjoy most about CAIR Coalition.
The other enjoyment is that I am given the rare opportunity to help others in a deeply impactful way. When we win a case, we very often bring a family back together. When we win a case, we can help steer people to resources to help rebuild their lives after extended periods of detention. When we win a case, it’s another victory in the fight for due process. And it’s a victory for all immigrants, and for those of us who believe that we should all be treated equally under the law.
CAIR Coalition is now taking on its biggest challenge yet, and you can be a part! CAIR Coalition is growing, thanks to its dedicated funders and volunteers. It is expanding with the goal of providing full direct legal representation for every detained immigrant in the District, Maryland and Virginia.
Come join us! We’ll keep the porch light burning for you.
Thank you, Brian, for all that you do! We could not do the work we do without our volunteers. To learn about the many volunteer opportunities here at CAIR Coalition, please visit our volunteer page.