Breaking the ice — with hot sauce?
Washington DC/Metro corps member Bill Thompson is no stranger to the topic of immigration. An attorney who spent 4 years with the Federal Labor Department running the temporary worker H-2A, H-2B, H-1B and green card labor certification process, his involvement was at the administrative level with no real involvement with foreign workers. Fast forward to 2020, and Bill now spends many hours each week working on the front-end of the immigration process through the Archdiocese of Washington Catholic Charities Immigration Legal Assistance Program.
Most recently, Bill has been handling U-Visa cases that aid undocumented people — mostly women — who are victims of crime and domestic abuse in the US obtain temporary legal status. “I spent my early years in Legal Aid, so am accustomed to working with people on the margins, but this is intense work,” Bill shares. “Clients have typically been traumatized, even terrorized, in their own countries and now have been victimized again here.”
One key element of this work is to earn the trust of those he is assisting, establish a rapport and, as much as possible, defuse the power dynamic inherent in the relationship. Bill was just starting work with a Honduran woman and a discussion began about her country’s cuisine. She proceeded to give Bill a lesson on the different types of hot sauces one uses in preparing the food. “She was able to speak from her extensive knowledge and I, liking hot sauce, listened eagerly. It helped break the ice and empowered her to share her expertise.”
When asked about his involvement in IVC, Bill recalled his stint as a legal aid lawyer. “I burned out very quickly in that work but now my service is based on the Gospel. To be in community with other people who share the commitment to be “persons for others” keeps me grounded and trusting in the Spirit. And now, when we are able to meet again after COVID, I’ll share with them my new-found knowledge of hot sauce!”