Giovanna Ortiz Recounts Service with the CWS

The summer before her senior year, Giovanna Ortiz ’16 spent time working with Church World Service (CWS)—Lancaster’s Immigration Legal Services Program—to resettle immigrants and refugees in the surrounding central Pennsylvania area. She was one of many volunteers who helped to acclimate approximately 400 individuals to the area during the course of each year. 

The focus of her full-time internship, made possible through an Arnold Grant from LVC, was to conduct research on case law, United States Citizenship and Immigration Services policies, and court procedures. Her knowledge in these fields helped her prepare briefs and country condition reports on immigration cases, create client files, and assist clients in Spanish and English. 

“In general, an important part of the job includes being an advocate for the rights of immigrants and refugees, and in general, basic human rights,” notes Ortiz.

For Ortiz, this unique opportunity enabled her to hone the variety of skills she has learned at Lebanon Valley College and prepare for a future career in law. 

“I saw the prospect of being able to use my education from LVC in the major fields of Spanish, politics, and global studies in order to give back to my community,” outlines Ortiz, a major in all three of these areas. She also completed a minor in law and society.

Her study abroad experience in Spain also provided Ortiz with insight on how to serve the individuals who seek CWS-Lancaster’s assistance. 

“My semester abroad helped me identify with what it is like to be in a foreign country, and how meaningful it s to be welcomed,” illustrates Ortiz. “Traveling abroad definitely gave me a heart for ‘welcoming the stranger’ [the CWS motto] ,which is an attitude and necessary skill that has prepared me to serve the refugees, asylees, and other immigrants resettling here and becoming immersed in a new culture and language.” 

Ortiz explains that it was important with this position to maintain a positive attitude and think about the human beings that the program is helping, rather than the bureaucracy and paperwork. The positivity of a staff that is truly invested and goes above and beyond in their work motivated Ortiz and helped her to have patience with the overwhelming barriers in the federal immigration system. 

“The services we provide can affect someone’s entire life, so when it feels like I am wasting time waiting for a powerless customer service representative or entering information on online forms that give me an error message when I try to submit them, I try to put things in perspective and think about the actual person or family,” says Ortiz.

The human element provides continual inspiration for Ortiz, whose legislative work with CWS has opened her eyes to the many misconceptions surrounding the lives of immigrants. Ortiz cites one of the greatest impacts of the cases she works with as an awareness of her own, personal privilege—being born on American soil to parents who are citizens. 

“Overall, I’ve had quite a few cases that have impacted me, whether they are using CWS’s services as a student chasing their dreams to go to a university, a middle-aged man trying to reunite with his wife and child, or an elderly woman who has lived here for the majority of her life and wants to begin the naturalization process,” recalls Ortiz.

Ortiz intends to use her internship experience to further the research on the American political identity she began with LVC’s Symposium on a Living Philosopher: Paul Kahn. In that course, Ortiz focused on alternative social imaginaries and criminal organizations, but after her experiences with CWS-Lancaster, she intends to focus her work on the immigrant identity in the social structure of the United States.