Volunteer Spotlight: Valerie Snow

Val Snow-Blog-Feature

Profession:
Paralegal – at least for now.

What do you do as a volunteer for the ACLU of Pennsylvania?
I volunteer doing intake for the Legal Department. For an average of six hours per week, during the office’s evening and weekend hours, I chip away at the phone message database and make calls to people who believe their civil rights have been violated. I follow a general script and take notes on the call, and then I summarize each complaint and suggest a course of action. Usually, this means selecting a handful of referrals to other organizations. After sending the complaint to a volunteer attorney for review and feedback, I finalize our response and send it off.

I occasionally interact with Spanish speakers who leave messages for us, and since there are currently a very small number of volunteers who speak Spanish, staff attorney Molly Tack-Hooper asked if I would be interested in a trip to a detention facility to help with some language interpreting. I immediately agreed, and after much arranging, we traveled to Berks County Residential Center in Leesport, PA for a day.

This Immigration and Customs Enforcement family detention center, which holds mostly women and children, is one of only three in the country. Our goal was to see if anyone at the detention facility qualified to join a class action lawsuit the ACLU filed against the Obama administration. The suit contests the administration’s practice of detaining and denying bond to asylum-seeking mothers and children from Central America who have passed a “credible fear” interview and are likely to receive asylum status. This new policy, aimed at deterring immigration from Central America, contradicts the Department of Homeland Security’s precedent of releasing families on bond as they await their asylum hearings and contravenes U.S. immigration law and Fifth Amendment rights. Touring the detention facility and speaking to more than a dozen individuals in Spanish about their difficult situations, while reminding them that we could not help with their specific asylum cases, made for an interesting and educational trip that was not without its challenges.

How long have you volunteered with the ACLU of Pennsylvania?
I began volunteering in early August, 2014.

How did you first get involved with the ACLU of Pennsylvania?
After graduating from Haverford College in May 2014, with a degree in Political Science, I started my paralegal job right away and began to consider how I might meet new people and supplement my work with something I feel passionate about – especially if it might help me clarify my career and higher education goals. After asking some friends and acquaintances in the Philadelphia area for ideas, a volunteer reviewing attorney for the ACLU of PA told me about the possibility of becoming an intake volunteer. I thought it sounded like a great fit for me, so I applied.

Why is volunteering with the ACLU of Pennsylvania important to you?
The ACLU of PA is the type of organization I could see myself working for in the future, as it addresses many socially important issues – grounded by the theme of protecting Constitutional/ civil rights – and uses a combination of strategies to effect change. In the short term, though, it’s a constructive volunteer opportunity and learning experience that allows me to help a cause (and specific individuals) in some small way. Plus, I’ve met some great people whose values overlap with my own.

What civil liberties issue(s) are you most passionate about and why?
I tend to gravitate toward discrimination issues and those that track closely to the rights of people and groups (rather than, for example, surveillance and digital privacy – important as those issues are). My primary concern is to help people and be part of something that encourages a more equal society – one that values diversity and tries to recognize and correct injustice.

What do you do when you’re not volunteering for the ACLU of Pennsylvania?
Apart from my full-time job, I enjoy seeing friends, running and biking, reading, playing piano, crocheting, and hanging out with my cat.

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If you are interested in volunteering with the ACLU of Pennsylvania, please visit: aclupa.org/volunteer