Nebraska Public Interest Law Fund (NPILF) Spotlight: Emma Lentsch, U.S. Department of State

Emma is standing in front of wall of large windows and smiling at the camera. She has long blonde hair and is wearing a gray skirt suit. Above her is a long row of flags from different countries.

Emma stands below the row of flags at State Department Headquarters in Washington, D.C.

by Emma Lentsch

The Nebraska Public Interest Law Fund (NPILF) provides a limited number of stipends to University of Nebraska College of Law students who secure unpaid public interest positions for the summer.

2L Emma Lentsch, a 2022 NPILF recipient, worked with the U.S. Department of State, Bureau of Western Hemisphere Affairs, Migration Working Group. Emma shared more about her experience below.

Can you describe the work or mission of your host organization? 

The mission of the U.S. Department of State is “to protect and promote U.S. security, prosperity, and democratic values and shape an international environment in which all Americans can thrive.” The Bureau of Western Hemisphere Affairs “[…] advances fair and reciprocal trade, sustainable economic development, and poverty reduction; combats drug trafficking, transnational crime, and illegal immigration; and supports democracy, the rule of law, and good governance to strengthen our national security and our economy.” The Migration Working Group was originally established in 2018 to track and report on migration flows at the southern border, however has since transitioned to become more policy focused as it receives taskings directly from the White House National Security Council. 

What were your main responsibilities? How did you spend your time? 

My responsibilities included: attending daily team meetings, tracking various migration statistics, recording all relevant U.S. diplomatic engagements with foreign governments, and taking notes at high level interagency policy coordination meetings on various migrations topics. One of the biggest projects my team was responsible for was drafting the Los Angeles Declaration. This was signed by the U.S. and several other countries during the Summit of Americas conference in early June. A big part of the team’s work involved following up on the migration related deliverables which came from the summit. 

What drew you to this type of work and how did you find/secure this particular opportunity? 

I have previous experiences working in immigration and at federal agencies. Additionally, I have always wanted to explore the State Department and career path of how to become a foreign service officer. My academic background is international affairs, specifically in Latin America, so this placement was the perfect opportunity for me to explore this area further. I applied on the USAJobs website and after completing a background check, I was offered the position. 

What did you most enjoy about the experience? 

My favorite part of this experience was when I travelled to Washington, D.C. and met my office. Due to COVID-19, I worked the entire summer remotely. However, in late July I was able to visit State Department Headquarters and meet my team face-to-face. I went in person to our team meeting and saw the office space. My supervisor and a few other coworkers also took me to the main building to see the famous row of flags and historical museum. Most of the work this office does involves long-term plans/solutions to systemic migration issues, therefore I did not get to see many projects through to completion. However, getting to visit our nation’s capital and see the agency headquarters in person made me realize the impact my office’s hard work has on our country. 

How has your summer experience impacted you or your view of public interest work/the legal system? 

I definitely see myself working in the public sector after graduation. I feel strongly about serving others and think that a role in government suits my career goals. Although this internship did not involve direct work in the legal field, I was able to interact with federal attorneys in some instances as policy issues often involved legal questions. Additionally, I arranged some meetings with members of the State Department’s legal team and asked questions about their daily work in this agency. Their responses further solidified my desire to work in a similar job someday. 

Do you have a favorite anecdote or project from your summer work? 

During the summer, I was able to see the creation of a new working group which came about from the Los Angeles Declaration. It was only in action for a couple weeks before I completed my internship, but it was very interesting to see the meetings and projects get started. Although I cannot go into specifics, it involved significant collaboration between the U.S. and Mexico on migration labor pathways. Several federal agencies were included such as the Department of Labor and Department of Homeland Security. I am excited to see the progress my office will accomplish with this special project within the next six months and expect to see something about it in the news eventually if it is successful. 

Would you recommend this placement to others? 

Yes, I would absolutely recommend this placement to others. If anyone is considering the foreign service after law school, this is a great opportunity to work and talk with several foreign officers to get more information. Additionally, if you enjoy working on projects that make a big impact in the world and serving your country, then this is a great agency to work for. My office was so welcoming to questions and helpful with all assignments I was given. I always felt like I could talk to anyone about their experiences oversees and in D.C., as well as their career paths that led them to where they are now. 

What would you say to someone who was considering donating to the NPILF fund? 

I would first say thank you for considering it. Without NPILF, I would not have been able to work at my dream agency this summer. I was the last round of interns at the State Department that were unpaid, so I had to choose whether to pick my dream internship or work somewhere else simply so that I could pay my rent. However, thanks to NPILF, I got to work where I truly wanted without sacrificing my finances. 

What do you hope to do with your law degree? 

I hope to make a difference in the world. Something that I seek in a future career is the ability to impact people in a positive way, whether that is helping a client win a case or changing a policy in our country. A law degree teaches you to think critically, write explicitly, and empathize differently. I want to utilize it to help others. 

The application for the State Department's paid summer internship is expected to open in November. You can sign up to receive ongoing updates related to the program and the Summer 2023 application cycle.