Reflections on a Summer Internship with VLP’s Buffalo Immigration Unit

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By Caitlin Mudra ’23

Before I began college, I thought I wanted to be a doctor. After taking one pre-med chemistry class, I knew being a medical doctor was not for me. When I switched majors and colleges, I was lost. I had no idea what I wanted to study or what career I wanted to enter. All I knew is that I wanted to help others. That is what drove me to pursue studying law at the University at Buffalo School of Law, and subsequently focusing in on immigration law. 

Once in law school the desire to help others drove me to intern at the Erie County Bar Association’s Volunteer Lawyers Project. My mentor was an attorney there who explained the work and the philosophy behind the work VLP does for the clients in the Buffalo Immigration Unit. It seemed like a perfect fit. As a Buffalo native and a seasoned law firm intern, I thought I would be prepared for the stories of the trials and tribulations faced by clients. My experience at VLP this summer hearing from clients about their pasts presented me with not only a glimpse into the diversity of the world, but the diversity here in Buffalo.

As a Buffalo native I have always prided myself as being a member of the city of good neighbors. A city where we respond cheerfully with a ‘Go Bills’ at any greeting time. A city that can elicit many arguments when I emphatically boast it is the home of best food in the country. Buffalo has always been shaped by its immigrant population, from the Dyngus Day celebrations, Italian Festival, and the Burmese Water Festival to the many immigrant-owned businesses that are in the Queen City. 

Today, Buffalo receives one-third of all the refugees that come into New York State. As the city gains more residents from diverse backgrounds, we must work together to celebrate the diversity of our neighbors, encourage and assist every member of our community to thrive. This work is central at Volunteer Lawyers Project. The Buffalo Immigration Unit works with refugee populations and assists them in navigating the bureaucratic immigration system in order to be granted citizenship, green cards, and keep members of our community in their new homes. The service of an intern in the unit may seem small, from researching country conditions to filling out forms, but every act contributes to a better, more hospitable Buffalo. 

I would like to thank Garry Graber and the University at Buffalo School of Law Summer Public Interest Funding & Fellowship for awarding me the 2021 Garry Graber ’78 Fellowship. Without receiving this gracious award, I would not have been able to have experienced the necessary and enlightening internship in public interest law that I so desired. I would also like to thank my supervising attorney Kerry Battenfeld and the entire Buffalo Immigration Unit for being so helpful and welcoming this summer (even over Zoom!).

In closing, I am prouder than ever to be from a city like Buffalo – a city where I hope to continue gaining new neighbors, through the hard work of public interest lawyers like those in VLP’s Immigration Unit.

Name: Caitlin Mudra ‘23

Name of Fellowship: Garry Graber ’78 Fellowship

Placement: Erie County Bar Association’s Volunteer Lawyers Project – Buffalo’s Immigration Unit

Location: Buffalo, NY

One important lesson I have learned from this fellowship: “My experience at VLP this summer hearing from clients about their pasts presented me with not only a glimpse into the diversity of the world, but the diversity here in Buffalo.”