Illustration by Chloe Olsen.
Part 2 of 6
“The whole experience of interviewing these women was emotional. Here we were, two complete strangers to them, asking about the most difficult and traumatic times in their lives, all the while knowing that they held a deep desperation that their story would be ‘enough’.”
In order to obtain asylum, one needs to show that they have a well-founded fear of persecution in their home countries based on one or more of five grounds:
- Membership in a particular social group (Most LGBTQ individuals who apply for asylum qualify under this category)
- Political opinion
Border Patrol Officers are supposed to ask recently apprehended individuals if they are afraid to return to their home countries. This is not always the case, but when they do, if the individual answers in the affirmative, they begin the process of establishing “credible fear”. The problem is that they may struggle to articulate that fear. They don’t know how their violent or traumatic stories fit into the necessary legal boxes required to qualify for asylum here in the US.
When an asylum officer (AO) asks them why they left their home countries, the could potentially, and in all honesty, answer that they have come to the US to seek a better life for their children. This may be true, of course, but they may not know that it is important to provide the harrowing details that led them to believe that the future for their children in their home countries would be bad or downright dangerous. (Examples of the current violent and dangerous conditions in Central America can be found here). They may not know to tell their stories of persecution in a way that will ultimately lead them to obtain permanent asylum.
The volunteers in Dilley provide pro bono legal services to help detainees understand which aspects of their stories are most relevant to those legal requirements. That’s what we worked on all week. Essentially, the legal work at the facility is a fast-paced “instant advocacy” situation where the stakes are high, as the women face returning to a country where they fear for their lives if they are deported. They must proceed with “one interview, one decision, [and] one chance to appeal within a few short weeks — [it is] expedited due process.” (Divy Gupta)
The whole experience of interviewing these women was emotional. Here we were, two complete strangers to them, asking them about the most difficult and traumatic times in their lives, all the while knowing that they held a deep desperation that their story would be “enough”.
Incidentally, the Dilley project’s track record for a positive result after the credible and reasonable fear interviews (with appeals, when necessary) for women with representation offered at the Dilley facility is about 99 percent! However, while most of these women pass their Credible Fear Interviews (CFIs), so many of them will not actually receive asylum here. There are various reasons for this. For example, the women must eventually face a final adversarial hearing with experienced ICE trial attorneys who will cross-examine them about their trauma in an effort to debunk their claims and have them deported. Those hearings are particularly challenging because the standard of proof is much higher than at the CFI, and the women must produce documentation to back their claims such as relevant articles, expert reports regarding the state of affairs in their home counties, police reports, and anything else to prove their case. Also, a lot of areas around the country have immigration judges that simply won’t recognize their claims as valid.
Tragically, only about 14% of detainees receive representation for these final hearings. And getting to the final hearing usually takes years because of the fact that immigration courts are so underfunded compared to enforcement agencies. In the end, one judge described the Immigration Courts as “death penalty cases in a traffic court setting” (Judge Dana Leigh Marks, April 1, 2018). This situation has created a refugee crisis here in our country where thousands face uncertainty, and their rights are under attack throughout the entire years-long asylum process.
Part 3 of this story includes some harrowing details about the actual detention facilities.