Kristen Corlay Sanmiguel
(Centro de los Derechos del Migrante Intern and InBaltimore Cohort 2022)
Kristen wearing a navy jumpsuit and a black sweater in front of the US Capitol
If there is one thing that I’m even more sure of now while working at a non-profit, it is that social change requires an interdisciplinary and intersectional approach.
As an engineering student in the civic space, I’ve often been confused for an international studies or political science major. However, I believe that STEM skills can synergize with advocacy work and that human rights should be present in all areas of study. That is why this summer I’m working as a policy intern at the Centro de los Derechos del Migrante (Center for Migrant Rights).
CDM supports migrant workers in defending and protecting their rights, most of which come from my home country, Mexico. These workers come to the United States on temporary visas, such as H-2B or H-2A, but unfortunately they are susceptible to be victims of human rights violations, such as wage theft, unsafe work conditions, and discrimination based on sex, race, and age.
Cover of the report titled “Picked Apart: The Hidden Struggles of Migrant Worker Woman In The Maryland Crab Industry” with women picking crabs
Some of CDM’s flagship projects and programs include:
- Contratados.org, a website where migrant workers can verify job offers and review their employers to prevent fraud.
- Providing direct representation and litigation support.
- Policy advocacy for supporting the rights of workers on temporary visas through coalitions like Migration that Works.
- The Protein Processing Worker Project (PPP) to reduce the spread of infectious diseases, such as Covid-19, among immigrant and migrant workers in the seafood and meat processing industry.
A glimpse into my work
I’ve been able to work on a variety of projects at CDM.Some of the most rewarding experiences have been:
- Attending a congressional briefing and learning all about the behind the scenes of how activist coalitions prepare for them.
- Designing social media and blog posts for Contratados.org regarding H-2B regulations.
- Shadowing the executive director and sitting-in on meetings with government agencies, like the CDC and the Department of Labor.
- Doing outreach work in Howard County to prevent human trafficking among migrant workers, by distributing flyers and talking to workers.
Kristen posing with two colleagues in front of the steps of the US capitol before a congressional briefing
My internship is hybrid, which means I go to the office two days a week and work from home the rest! This flexibility has allowed me to ease the transition into “work-life” with things like meal prepping and commuting to work, while still having time for spontaneity like working at a new café or taking trips to DC.
CDM has offices in Mexico City, Oaxaca, and Baltimore in addition to people who work remotely. This means that I have colleagues all across Mexico and the United States with a diverse set of experience. What surprised me the most about working here was that even though I have never met some of my colleagues in-person, I’ve still been able to genuinely connect with them online (including my amazing supervisor, Kristin).
On a personal level, it’s been a while since I’ve been fully immersed in an organization with people that understand how much I miss my country’s food or the experience of moving to the United States for school. Entering a zoom meeting and hearing everyone talking in Spanish felt incredibly comforting on my first day of work. It is part of our organizational culture to have “cafecitos” or “coffee talks” where we learn about the history of human rights in Mexico, reflect on pride month, or share important life updates.
Learning from my colleagues and final takeaways
I used to think that one of the most important things I would learn in an internship would be skills for career development. While I have certainly improved my understanding of policy and law, speaking with my colleagues and being immersed in a workplace environment has been where I have learned more about myself and what I want to do in the future.
Kristen and 4 smiling colleagues after a work day in Capitol Hill
As a student I feel like I’m always either interacting with professors who have vast work and academic experience, or other students who are going through similar experiences as I am thinking about what they want to do after university. CDM has an intergenerational team, where I’ve been able to speak with experienced professionals, but also young adults who are still figuring life out. Sometimes it can be easier to dream and picture yourself 15 years into the future experiencing your definition of success, but the inbetween stages of figuring out how to get there can be tricky and it’s okay to not know every twist and turn your life will take.
Whether you’re doing research in a lab, doing an internship, or just taking some time off this summer, I encourage you to reach out to those around you and learn about their life trajectories. I know I’ve definitely been surprised at how many people I admire have said they’re “figuring it out on the go”.
To get more information about CDM visit cdmigrante.org and learn about human rights issues in Maryland by reading “Breaking the Shell: How Maryland’s Migrant Crab Pickers Continue to Be “Picked Apart”.
If you’re interested in continuing this conversation, feel free to send me a message on LinkedIn (linkedin.com/in/kcorlay).