Fulbright ETA in Mexico Recipient to Provide Support to Asylum Seekers and Refugees

July 13, 2021

Yvonne Gay

A portrait of a young man leaning on a stone column.
Johan Cavert ’20
Photo credit: Courtesy of Cavert

While serving as a Fulbright English Teaching Assistant in Mexico this fall, Johan Cavert ’20 also plans to provide support to asylum seekers and refugees.

The Fulbright U.S. Student Program provides grants for individually designed study and research projects or for English Teaching Assistant (ETA) programs. 

Participants in the program work, live with, and learn from the people of their host country, while sharing daily experiences. The program facilitates cultural exchange through direct interaction on an individual basis in the classroom, field, home, and in routine tasks. 

Placements vary in Mexico from elementary schools to universities in many regions of the country. And as is the case in most countries offering ETA positions, grantees are encouraged to develop a 20-hour per week project related to their personal, professional, and/or educational interests. 

Cavert’s Mexico ETA will begin in September and go through May 2022, during which time he plans to continue the work he has been involved with at the Immigrant Law Center of Minnesota (ILCM) by providing support to asylum seekers and refugees across the border.

After graduating from Oberlin, Cavert began work at the ILCM, which is considered the state’s leading provider of free and high-quality legal, policy, and education services for immigrants, immigrant families, and immigration-reform efforts. As a legal assistant at ILCM, Cavert assists attorneys as they defend U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) detainees facing deportation. He also works with pro bono lawyers representing Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) applicants and residents applying for naturalization.

“In recent years, Mexico has become the indefinite residence for increasing numbers of immigrants from countries in the Northern Triangle and around the world,” says Cavert. “COVID-19, migrant protection protocols, and other policies have limited U.S. border crossings while at the same time, the number of asylees fleeing violence remains high. Seeking to provide support, trauma-informed care, and knowledge of legal resources to refugees in Mexico will allow me to continue this work at the ground level while learning about the everyday impact of bilateral immigration policy. 

“I am also curious to learn more about the impact and causes of climate migration and the ways in which environmental justice is interrelated with international immigraiton policy.”

While working in U.S. Senator Amy Klobuchar’s office during the Trump Administration’s family separation policies, Cavert says he talked with scores of constituents who were upset by events at the U.S.-Mexico border. “That inspired me to get directly involved in changing the inhumane policies levied against individuals seeking asylum and humanitarian relief within our county,” he says.

As a volunteer committee member and traveler with Servas International, he met and befriended many people around the world who are also committed to fostering peace and cross-cultural diplomacy through cultural exchange. 

Through the Humanity In Action program in Amsterdam, he learned about human rights and social justice with a transatlantic cohort that brought many diverse perspectives to discussions on pressing contemporary issues. 

“I have been challenged and have grown during these and other experiences, including my time at Oberlin,” he says. “I hope my Fulbright grant will allow me to continue to build on that foundation while I prioritize language education and diplomatic exchange as tools for furthering empowerment and equity, forming authentic connections, and creating international commitment to common goals of peace and social justice.”

While majoring in economics and Hispanic studies with an international studies concentration, as well as minoring in comparative literature at Oberlin, Cavert taught Spanish through the Spanish in the Elementary Schools program. SITES, he says, solidified his devotion to education as a tool to facilitate community building and empowerment.

“Teaching through SITES and taking [Instructor and SITES Program Director] Kim Faber’s practicum piqued my interest in pedagogy and language education, and led me to apply to Fulbright,” says Cavert.

Living and working abroad has always been an integral aspect of his identity, says Cavert. And he is incredibly grateful to all the teachers, friends, family, and community members who continue to support him and provide inspiration.

Cavert is also the recipient of the 2019 Humanity in Action Fellowship to the Netherlands and is a 2019 Truman Scholarship State Finalist.

At Oberlin, Cavert served as a sustainability liaison for Student Senate; member of the Green Edge Fund Board; student representative on the Committee on Environmental Sustainability; and the Carbon Neutrality Student Advisory Board; reported for the Oberlin Review, and hosted a WOBC radio show about news and current events.

Cavert plans to pursue a graduate degree and career in public policy, law, or environmental economics.

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