At 9 years old, Kathy Souchet-Downey and her family relocated from Puerto Rico to Anderson, Ind., for her dad’s job as a pediatrician. Although she was born and raised in Puerto Rico, she’s technically a U.S. citizen because of the Jones-Shafroth Act. According to the Library of Congress, President Woodrow Wilson signed the act in 1917, which gave anyone born in Puerto Rico U.S. citizenship.
For Souchet-Downey and her family, this meant it was easier for them to navigate coming to the U.S. For others, such as immigrants from Mexico or other Latin American countries, it’s not such a smooth process. Today, she’s channeling her personal experience through her position in the office of Congressman André Carson as an immigrant and grants liaison/Latino outreach coordinator.
“My experience is not an immigrant experience in the sense that I was born a U.S. citizen,” she says. “I often reflect on the fact that I was privileged to have been born a U.S. citizen, and how easy that move was for me and my family.”
Aside from a slight language barrier, Souchet-Downey credits her interest in immigration as “a reflection of how my journey was so different from someone who’s faced with immigration issues.” Through her position in Carson’s office, she’s able to advocate for those in the immigration system and guide them through their business with the U.S.
We sat down with Souchet-Downey and learned what the biggest misconception of her job is, how she’s addressing immigration challenges brought on by COVID-19, and the best advice she’s ever received.
Maven superpower: Connecting people. I love mentoring young people and using that superpower to try to help them get a foot in the door and meet folks that they might not have had the opportunity to meet.
How would you describe your job to a stranger you just met?
A large part of my role is working with individuals within the district that are impacted by this much bigger issue. So, folks who are trying to adjust their status to get their green cards, helping those individuals who have questions about the process. I often tell folks that our job is to be a liaison or a connection between the federal government and the people who work and live in Indianapolis. I don’t have a typical day. I spend a lot of time talking to people, going out to community events and community organizations, and meeting with folks to learn more about what some of the challenges and successes are here in our community.
What is the biggest misconception about your job?
Probably that we’re all in D.C., and that we’re not part of the Indianapolis community. The congressman himself lives here in Indianapolis and the constituent services team all live here.
What inspired you to get into politics?
Really the desire to help others and the desire to serve my community. Also, the realization that a lot of people don’t like to talk about politics and don’t want to get involved in politics that feels ugly to them. But politics is part of all of our lives. Politics is the air that we breathe, it’s the water that we drink.
Immigration has been a hot topic recently. How are you helping those communities through your position with Congressman Carson?
The immigrant system, like any other system, has been greatly impacted by COVID. Applications to request certain immigration benefits are really backlogged. Right now, I’m dealing with a lot of calls and managing a lot of communication within the agency, between the agency and constituents, to make sure that those requests are where they need to be.
Then the other side of things is the bigger picture. It’s educating the community on some of the policies that are currently impacting immigration. I think the unaccompanied children at the border is a huge issue that we’re all hearing a lot about, and the congressman has been very clear on the fact that our government needs to be humane and caring as we’re dealing with this issue.
How can Hoosiers help with this crisis?
Overall, we need to recognize that our immigration system is grossly outdated. We need immigration reform that looks at the push and pull factors of immigration — why are people coming? What are we doing here in the United States that attracts people to come here? Hoosiers can recognize that we’re all impacted by immigration in positive ways.
Our community benefits from immigrants, and we need to look at our system and make sure that it’s working as smoothly as possible, so people can legally come to the United States and strengthen our communities.
What’s your most memorable day on the job?
There are so many good ones. I’ll generically say that my most memorable moments are when I get a visit or a phone call from a family member from a U.S. citizen or a legal permanent resident who has sponsored a family member and has been waiting for that family member to come. For some of them, it’s a journey that has been decades long. It’s always my favorite thing when I answer the phone or when I get a visit at the office from a family member that has been trying to help come to the United States through our legal immigration system and they finally got here.
What are some of the guiding principles for your career?
The desire to serve. My job is really not glamorous. I guess, being able to hear people when they’re talking to you. I think it’s about respect for another human being. It’s listening to them. It’s the desire to help them in some way and really make a difference for our community as a whole. The good for one is the good for all the collective benefit of helping everyone succeed, so that our communities can succeed, and so our country can succeed.
What’s the best advice you’ve ever received?
Everything is politics. We are our government, we are our community. It takes all of us speaking up and being engaged to make this thing work, this thing being our country and community.
What are some of your hobbies outside of the office?
I love the trail system in Indianapolis, it just keeps growing and growing. I love walking on our trails, we spend a lot of time outdoors walking and exploring. I love Indianapolis as a city. I like to go to festivals and events, I do that as part of my job, too. Even as an individual, I just love learning about the things happening in our community and celebrating that.
What is something people might be surprised to learn about you?
I really loved country music when I was in college. I don’t think most people would think that about me.
Samantha Kupiainen is a regular Indy Maven contributor.
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