Shaping Policy for a Pandemic during a Summer Internship

Julia Alonzo ’21, recipient of the Ford Internship, spent her summer interning virtually at Office of Community Engagement and Immigrant Affairs at the City of Dallas. Because of the pandemic, she was able to receive real-world training on creating policy that serves the needs of a community. Read about her experience below.

Local government has had a whirlwind of a 2020 – a global pandemic, a call to defund the police, a Supreme Court DACA decisions, and unprecedented unemployment and poverty. This is a taste of the different issues I witnessed during my time at the Office of Community Engagement and Immigrant Affairs at the City of Dallas. The Office falls under the greater Equity and Inclusion branch and their mission is to foster relations between newcomers to Dallas and existing residents, immigrant or not. Due to COVID-19, the office has had to adapt how they carry out their mission. While my time with WCIA may have been virtual, it shaped how I view public policy and its sobering reality.

My 6-weeks working with WCIA was largely spent listening in on meetings with different organizations and City Council leaders. When I was not in a meeting, I was helping organize webinars for the Office including one for the 2020 Census and one for community leaders regarding the pending DACA decision. My last two weeks were spent helping the Office of Resilience package over 10,000 individual face masks for the community and dropping them off at shelters and local non-profits. My role in the office was limited as I had to be virtual, but that did not stop how much I was learning about my city. The most impactful moment was sitting in on a City Council meeting and hearing about how one of worst zip codes in Dallas in terms of COVID was my own. Local government and public policy have as much of an impact, if not more, in our immediate life than national policy.

Our city leaders do not have all the answers, but they are well intentioned. There is no solution to problems in our city that will satisfy everyone, but that is why public policy has to be comprehensive and research backed. During my time at WCIA, I learned a lot about DACA, and how it still exists in a legal gray area even with the positive Supreme Court decision. The uncertainty plays a mental toll on recipients and those who work, live, and attend school with them. To not know what your future will look like, especially during a time like COVID-19 where everyone is struggling, is difficult. The day we heard from the Supreme Court that DACA could stay was the first good news the office had heard lately. We had spent the weeks leading up to the decision trying to pool together resources from local non-profits, school administrators, and community leaders in case of a negative decision. Luckily, we did not need to use them. However, America needs to find viable, long-term solutions for DACA eligible individuals as many are still in legal limbo. While DACA has helped many people work and attend school in the U.S., it has left many anxious and worried that it could be pulled out from them at any moment. Progress is slow, but this year has shown we need solutions and we need them now.

I am currently considering attending law school and hoping to work as an attorney. Public policy is not just law makers. Public policy is filled with law makers at the lowest and highest forms of governments, community leaders, non-profits, businesses, attorneys, scientists, health officials, and most importantly, us, the citizens. Public policy is a reflection of its community. I am extremely grateful to both the Tower Center and the Office of Welcoming Communities and Immigrant Affairs for allowing me this opportunity.