Illustration by Chloe Olsen
Part 6 of 6:
“Politics aside, this is a human rights issue. Some of our fellow humans have, by no fault of their own, been dealt a bad hand. It is time – past time – to look critically at the situation and decide how we, individually and collectively, will respond to the crying children and desperate mothers and fathers at our southern border (and elsewhere) looking for refuge.”
Aside from translating from English to Spanish, and from Spanish to English, I learned a TON about immigration law, asylum procedures, instant advocacy, and many new legal and gang related vocabulary words in Spanish. Mostly, I loved Interfacing directly with mothers and children.
It was rewarding to conduct “welcome discussions” with new-comers, and “farewell discussions” with those who were set to leave the facility. The farewell discussions were particularly important because they helped to set the women up for success going forward. They are advised on how to request that their case be moved from TX to wherever they were heading, how to find out when their immigration and court appointments are and about the critical importance of attending both. We also discussed how to find an attorney to take their case (which is so much harder than it sounds, and only about 14% of detainees receive representation for their final hearings). We prepped them on their rights in the event of an ICE raid. We also watched for suspicious sponsor scenarios. Sadly, some people are trafficked by their sponsors who have offered to pay their way up to the States, and then have taken their documents and required them to pay back the loan with unreasonably high interest rates, etc.
Regarding the high success rate that I mentioned in the first post in this series for positive outcomes in the preliminary CFI interviews, I am haunted by a sickening feeling that so many, if not most, of these women will ultimately be deported and placed in grave danger upon their return. First of all, there are a number of valid and tragic reasons for which asylum-seekers might miss a hearing notice (which results in a removal order). For one example, read this article. Secondly, some immigration judges deny almost every over which they preside. In the span of 5 years, one judge in Virginia denied 88% of the asylum cases he heard, while another in Atlanta denied 98% of his asylum cases. What tragic luck for the asylum-seekers whose sponsors live in those jurisdictions. They really don’t stand much of a chance. For more on judge-by-judge asylum decisions, check out the statistics found here.
I’ll never forget the times when we were able to facilitate phone calls. We were allowed to help our clients make phone calls home (or elsewhere) sometimes in order to ask questions about or clarify parts of their cases. These phone calls were usually emotional because it was the first time they were able to let their families know that they were alive and about some of the hardships they had endured on the journey. It was both beautiful and awful to hear the conversations.
The phone calls actually underscore the cruel nature of these detention facilities: Family members and/or friends outside of the facilities cannot deposit money for them to use on the inside, as is possible in the prison system. In addition, children cannot be placed in the care of a trusted family member or friend as they make their way through the CFI process. Yes, there was a daycare trailer, but many of the children were so afraid of being away from their mothers that they cried constantly while there. This happened often enough that the daycare had to create a rule: If a child cries for more than 30 minutes straight, the child can no longer remain in the trailer. Not only that, but many of the children were so sick, that no mother would want to leave them in a group childcare facility under those conditions. Detaining children is so troubling and problematic, and it puts an undue strain on the mothers.
So many times I had to hold back tears. While I often felt like falling apart into a puddle of tears and emotion after hearing some of the stories they told, I remembered what we heard in our training sessions. This isn’t about us, obviously, and breaking down won’t help anything. Helping them with practical services, while still showing great empathy was going to be of greater benefit to them than a tearful sympathizer. But privately, in my hotel room at the end of each day, wrestled with emotional heaviness and conflict about it all.
I felt gratitude and an acute sense of privilege. Privilege that I have the flexibility to to something like this, that my partner is supportive, able, and willing to work to make it happen, that I have a sister who is an attorney with a desire to do it as well, that her firm made it possible, that I was able to learn another language years ago, that I don’t have restrictive health issues, privilege that I’m not in their shoes, privilege that I had the honor to sit and speak with them about their hardships and touch on a level of humanity that I can’t quite describe, and much more…
I felt frustration, rage, and despair. The very idea that we, as a country, are unreasonably detaining innocent women and children is just awful. It is unconscionable that we are separating children from their families. It is frustrating that our President is working to tighten laws to make it harder for these women to find refuge. It is disheartening to think of how many people will suffer and die because of our laws, especially considering the current trajectory for the laws soon to come (to name one: the 3rd country transit eligibility bar that requires asylum seekers to do so in the first country outside of their own). This makes in nearly impossible for those from Central American countries – other than México – to seek asylum in the States.
It is important to note that the current rising trend in numbers of immigrants, migrants, asylum seekers, refugees (the terminology isn’t really important) is our new “normal” across the globe. What we are seeing is the tip of the iceberg. The reasons for which I believe this are largely explained in the “Human Flow” . If you have not seen it, please (please, please) do so. It explains how climate change and wars among other things are increasingly making parts of our world uninhabitable for large parts of the global population. Where will they all go? And one can’t say that they should all go “somewhere else”. What does that even mean? We are all in this, the human experience, together. We need to adjust and make our legal framework for immigration more attuned to the growing needs of our global family, including the use of real alternatives to detention. We must modify our laws to handle the crisis we all face in a humane and fair way. Politics aside, this is a human rights issue. Some of our fellow humans have, by no fault of their own, been dealt a bad hand. It is time – past time – to look critically at the situation and decide how we, individually and collectively, will respond to the crying children and desperate mothers and fathers at our southern border (and elsewhere) looking for refuge.
It is time to recognize and acknowledge our own role in their suffering. Our political involvement in Central America contributed to much of the current unrest found there, and therefore much of the suffering by the people who live there. Our careless use of limited natural resources leads to accelerated climate change that results in droughts and famines for some and rising sea levels for others. Our fast-fashion/consumerist, throw-away culture contribute to situations that require many to work in unsafe and inhumane conditions. I know that not all of the problems in the world are our fault. However, we are not completely innocent. …But honestly “fault” is irrelevant. The point is, people need and deserve a safe place to live. They are desperately begging for that opportunity from us. How will we respond?
HOW YOU CAN HELP
We can all get involved and help in some way or another. From specialized services, to anyone-can-do-it services, there is something you can do. You can donate monetarily to various organizations, donate your time, donate your talents (language skills, legal skills, etc). Have a look at the list below and see what stands out to you.
- Spread the word about the important work that the attorneys and volunteers at Dilley Pro Bono Project are doing. Help recruit more volunteers for the program. (Share this: https://www.immigrationjustice.us/volunteeropportunities/dilley)
- Sign up as a volunteer Court Observer for immigration cases. All you need is a government issued photo ID and the ability to observe silently and take legal notes. It is critical work, shedding light on important proceedings. Here’s how.
- Go to The Advocates For Human Rights and see what you can do to help. They hand a big hand in making out trip to Dilley a reality. They recruited, trained and coordinated all the volunteer interpreters in our volunteer group in Dilley, including a huge team of remote volunteers, provided training in advance of the trip, and acted as on-the-ground support for attorneys. They were an invaluable asset to the entire volunteer project.
- Speak another language? Volunteer as an interpreter: http://www.theadvocatesforhumanrights.org/interpreters_translators OR an important remote interpreter opportunity is helping to manage the National Asylum Helpline. They receive hundreds of calls to this line each month from individuals released from the border who are looking for connections with organizations across the U.S. that may be able to assist them, or need help with procedural issues in the area where they have moved, like requests to change their hearing from a border Court to the Immigration Court nearest to them. They offer training on answering the helpline calls, and resources for many procedural issues facing asylum seekers. If you are interested in helping us manage our Asylum Helpline, please check the box indicating you are interested in doing so when you sign up as a volunteer interpreter
- If you’d like to donate to recently released families, you can contact the Interfaith Welcome Coalition, which provides backpacks full of supplies to families arriving at the San Antonio bus station from the detention center.
- Donate here to help us staff and support the Dilley Pro Bono Project. Donations to the Dilley Project are made through the American Immigration Council and are specifically earmarked for the Dilley Project only.
- Wish you spoke another language? Donate to TRLA to fund the Dilley Language Line (remote interpretation service)
- Go to http://www.detaineeallies.org/ and see what you can do to help. They are based in San Diego and have great ideas on how you can help, including writing letters to detainees.
- Share the 6 posts I’ve written about my experience in Texas to spread awareness. All of them can be found here.
- Consider becoming a sponsor for a detainee. Here is one person’s perspective:
- Act locally. Obviously, not everyone can go volunteer at a border detention facility, but they exist all over the country. Do a little research about what organizations in your area are working to help asylum-seekers, and see how you can help.
- If you are an attorney, consider taking on an immigration case, pro or low bono. Asylum seekers with attorneys have a much higher success rate than those who don’t (they just get deported), but the costs are prohibitive in the private sector, and the non-profit sector is inundated, as you can imagine.
- Look for more ways to get involved here:
- Joining a Dilley Remote Support Team: They are currently recruiting for the following:
- Data entry team: This need is urgent. It is quick and easy to learn, especially now that we temporarily incorporated a couple of the usual steps into our on-the-ground scanning process.
- Remote Spanish-English Interpretation: Provide remote Spanish-English interpretation for volunteers on the ground who don’t speak Spanish! (If interested, email: firstname.lastname@example.org).