“Welcome to Baby Jail” Follow up: Dispatches from the Field
By Claire R. Thomas
Dilley, Day 1
‘Twas a few weeks before Christmas and all through the trailer, stockings were taped to the walls by the jailers. Garlands and lights and more festive flair, an attempt to make you forget it’s not fair.
Welcome to Baby Jail, the holiday edition.
Some things have changed, but much stays the same. The women still personify dignity, grace, and strength when faced with horrific
circumstances. They honor us with their presence and remind us of why we advocate on their behalf to end family detention. Adorable little children who have survived unspeakable horrors run around unsupervised, as this center is truly not a child care facility. Yet they suddenly appear at a moment’s notice to act like small, protective forces around their mothers. Despite how cute and innocent they appear, we can only wonder about how much of this experience remains with them. What must they be thinking, these strong little people, who have crossed countries and sometimes oceans, seeking safety in their mothers’ arms, only to be held here and detained?
Truly grateful to be back, this time with Carlos, Marilyn, and Ernie. (Michelle, miss you). (Follow everyone’s posting at Law @the Margins )
Here’s the report on today:
We began with our group breakfast at around 6:40 AM, which was a big rush. Heavy fog rolled in last night. Thankful that I knew which
unmarked turn off to take to get to the facility (it’s the third turn after the main stoplight). We entered the facility and went through
security at the same time as the Asylum Officers, many of whom I ending up knowing (oh small world). We checked in, and arrived to Christmas decorations, CCA-style.
Ariel, the CARA’s project coordinator, gave us a tour of the visitation trailer. Then, we got to work doing intakes, credible and reasonable fear interview preps. The population is almost 2,000 women and children, which means things are very busy. Women enter the trailer in groups of 15-20 and participate in “charlas,” or meetings, about each step in the process. During these meetings, we the volunteers explain what’s going on- basic information, as disorientation and lack of answering questions appears to be rife.
Carlos and Ernie, the only male volunteers, embraced their gender stereotypes and made everything into a competition (how many prepped, how many charlas they lead). I have no words for this. But it’s actually quite awesome.
The vast majority of the women and children we meet are from the Northern Triangle countries of Honduras, El Salvador, and Guatemala. There are also women and children from Haiti, Brazil, and a mother from Afghanistan with her 5-month-old baby.
After eating out lunches packed and prepared by chef Carlos, we dove into a non-stop afternoon of prep sessions. In addition to preparing women for their interviews, Marilyn and I drafted a declaration with a woman who will go before an Immigration Judge tomorrow morning for a review of the negative decision on her credible fear interview from the asylum officer. Her son will turn 11 years later this week- his birthday will be in a detention facility. (In a very sobering thought, my older nephew will celebrate his 11th birthday next week in very different circumstances).
Baby Jail closes at 8 PM in the evenings. At this point, our work with the women and children ended for the night. We then headed to have our Monday “Big Table” meeting in the lounge of the Days Inn Dilley. We unfortunately missed “happy hour” (which is Bud Light and pretzels), but had a good hour or so discussion on our reflections from the day and the plan for the week.
– A growing portion of the women and children detained have their Notices to Appear (NTAs) and are not in expedited removal. Thus,
they don’t have to go through the credible or reasonable fear interview process and associated stress. There is no rhyme or reason for
why some women are given NTAs as opposed to others.
– A mother breastfeeding her infant was told by CCA staff that it was not appropriate to breastfeed because there were cameras all over and “men could be watching.” [WTF. Did I return to Iran? This is not ok]
– Bond – last time around, we assisted women with bond determination hearings in order to released from Baby Jail with a bond
as opposed to an ankle shackle. For the past few weeks, women have not been choosing bond. CARA Project is trying to figure out why this is happening. Apparently, the organization giving the Legal Orientation Programs (LOPs) to the women have given some misinformation about documents necessary to secure release through bond. We’ll see what happens.
– Asylum Office has been scheduling many many credible and reasonable fear interviews, sometimes up to 70 per day. This week, the
numbers have decreased significantly. There are only 6 interviews scheduled for tomorrow. Trying to figure out the rationale here, and
thinking that it’s because
At 9:45 PM, our meeting ended. We stopped at Burger King so that the “kids” could get fries for dinner. Ernie (Dad) drives, I sit shot
gun and provide directions (Mom), and Carlos and Marilyn (the kids) pester each other in the backseat. We’re a big bad ass happy family. Let’s see if we can still stand each other by the end of the week…:)
Court tomorrow in the early morning (it’s another trailer) with Marilyn for the woman we prepped this afternoon and evening. Fingers
Dilley, Day 2
[Writings from team at Law @ The Margin]
Sniffles, Coughs, and Sneezing- oh my
Everyone is sick. Kids, moms, staff. The maladies range from what appears to be a runny nose or a cold to more serious illnesses. One
woman is recovering from cancer. Another has gastritis. Children have sores on their faces and are not eating. Some have cheeks that are sunken in and appear pale and listless. Nursing mothers are drinking water contaminated by fracking. (I sense a lawsuit here….)
This morning, I went to the courtroom trailer (everything is a trailer) to assist women as a “friend of the court” for hearings before the
Immigration Judge (IJ) to hopefully vacate the negative decisions made by the Asylum Officers in their credible fear interviews. The IJ is in the Miami Immigration Court and appears by video conference here in Dilley (think bad skype connection).
Between clients, the IJ and I started talking. She stated that she had done over 3,000 cases in the Dilley court. Almost every morning, she hears cases by video conference in Dilley, and then does her full docket at the Miami Court in the evening. She said to me multiple times “this is really hard.” We talked about vicarious trauma and self-care. So interesting.
This afternoon was less busy than yesterday (nice break). Carlos had two very intense cases and worked incredibly hard to prep the women and older children for credible fear hearings before the immigration judge.
We stopped at the grocery store (needed more bread and lettuce) and then back to our trailer park hotel, where Carlos cooked s a delicious dinner of tri-colored pasta and a meat sauce with vegetables. Ernie washed the dishes. I sat on my bed texting my sister like a teenage girl. We had a delightful dinner, complete with beer and prosecco (thank you San Antonio) until my trailer neighbors complained that we were making too much noise. Love my family!
Tomorrow, court again at 8 AM for three women. Carlos did an amazing job prepping one woman and her teenaged son. Going to try to get Marilyn into the courtroom. Fingers crossed for a positive result.
La lucha sigue,
PS. Just to make things interesting, CCA changed its name a little while ago. The CCA flag still flies in all its glory on the flagpole out
front. Here’s a press release that came out about the new name, which is the name of a non-profit that advocates against private prison use. No words.
PRIVATE PRISON COMPANY CCA HAS STOLEN THE NAME OF A NONPROFIT THAT ADVOCATES AGAINST THE USE OF PRIVATE PRISONS
_CCA is Violating the Trademark Rights of CIVIC with the company’s new name CoreCivic_
CIVIC, which stands for Community Initiatives for Visiting Immigrants in Confinement, is a national non-profit with a mission to end U.S. immigration detention, particularly privately-run detention facilities. In October, Corrections Corporation of America (CCA) announced that it would be changing its name to CoreCivic in violation of CIVIC’s common-law trademark rights in the word mark CIVIC.
CIVIC is well-known to CCA. CIVIC has spoken out publically against CCA on multiple occasions. CIVIC raised concerns about sexual abuse of immigrants detained at a CCA facility in San Diego. CIVIC drafted and co-sponsored legislation in California to end private immigration detention contracting in the state. And CIVIC advocated for the Department of Homeland Security to shift away from private immigration detention contracting, which they voted to do earlier this month.
_“IT IS SHOCKING THAT CCA WOULD STEAL OUR NAME IN WHAT CAN ONLY BE CONSTRUED AS AN EFFORT TO CREATE UNDUE CONFUSION FOR IMMIGRANTS IN DETENTION AND EXPLOIT THE GOODWILL ASSOCIATED WITH OUR NAME,” SAYS
CHRISTINA FIALHO, CO-FOUNDER/EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR OF CIVIC._
All of the people CIVIC serves are immigrants, and many have limited English skills. Most are trying to navigate the detention system and complex immigration laws without legal counsel.
_“THERE IS AN IRONY TO THE FACT THAT A CORPORATION IN THE BUSINESS OF RUNNING PRIVATE PRISONS CHOOSES TO RE-BRAND ITSELF WITH THE TRADEMARK OF ONE OF ITS MOST ACTIVE CRITICS AND WATCHDOGS. WHATEVER THE MOTIVE, HOWEVER, THE NEW NAME IS LIKELY TO RESULT IN CONFUSION AMONG THE CLIENTS, SUPPORTERS AND REGULATORS WHO ALREADY KNOW THE GOOD WORK OF CIVIC IN THE FIELD OF PRISONER SERVICES AND PRISON REFORM,” SAYS JONATHAN KIRSCH, PRO BONO TRADEMARK COUNSEL FOR CIVIC._
This is not the first time CCA has hijacked key phrases in the immigrant rights movement. Facing growing criticism from the public and the government, CCA and other private prison companies have invested in “alternatives to detention,” a term advocates have long used to refer to community-based programs that ensure immigrants are released from detention to the community and provided with the support they need to best fight their immigration case. CCA misappropriated this term, redefining it to mean lucrative programs that tag people with ankle monitors and burden them with excessive reporting requirements.
_“WE WILL NOT ALLOW CCA TO USURP OUR NAME OR CONFUSE IMMIGRANTS IN DETENTION WITH THIS UNDERHANDED MOVE TO PROFIT FROM OUR GOOD WORK. CCA MUST STOP USING OUR TRADEMARK,” SAYS CHRISTINA MANSFIELD,
CO-FOUNDER/EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR OF CIVIC._
CCA’s CEO said that the company is changing its name to “give them access to new markets in states like California that have previously resisted private-prison firms.” CIVIC is headquartered in California.
_CIVIC is the national immigration detention visitation network, which is working to end U.S. immigration detention by monitoring human rights abuses, elevating stories, building community-based alternatives to detention, and advocating for system change.
_CIVIC has retained the Law Offices of Jonathan Kirsch and Kendall Brill & Kelly in this matter._
Dilley, Day 3: F—k Rape Culture
Stories of sexual violence. All day long. Today was a lot.
Morning started bright and early with a 7:30 AM check-in and then immigration court at 8 AM. I’ve been designated as the “immigration
court person” as I’ve bonded with the immigration judge over her trauma-informed history. Carlos, Marilyn, and I headed to Immigration
Court. The security guard gave us a difficult time with having Marilyn come into the court (trailer), but managed to talk our way in. Judge was thrilled to have a future law student sit in the proceedings, and security guard turned out to be from Chicago. Looks like we’re set for
the rest of the week. 🙂
Two cases were vacated, meaning the Immigration Judge (IJ) reversed the Asylum Officers’ decisions in the cases. Meaning that the women (and their children) would be released soon. Carlos did a truly terrific job with his case in terms of obtaining the full story from the client and her son, and then developing the case. #proudprofessor
Carlos reminded me that his classmate (and my former student), Estefani, was currently clerking in the Miami Immigration Court. I told the immigration judge, who got all excited, and phoned Estefani. She told Estefani that she was urgently needed in the judge’s courtroom. She came in very professionally, and the judge said “someone wants to say hi to you on the video screen.” Then came Estefani! And then we had a nice chat, via video conference. The judge left the room, told Estefani to “get the scoop on Dilley.”
And then we were back. The last case we had before the IJ was tough. It was clear to me and to Marilyn, from speaking with the woman for a few minutes, that something horrible had clearly happened (another attorney had prepped her case but was not with her before the IJ). But when reading the documents she had prepared with one of the volunteer lawyers yesterday and from looking at her file, there was no mention of such horrors. The IJ asked her a lot of questions, and the woman gave basic answers. It was clear to the IJ that there was something else. The IJ asked her about her relationship with her partner. The woman stated that they argued sometimes, but didn’t share any more information. The IJ looked at me, and told me she had no choice but to affirm the decision of the asylum officer (meaning the woman is ordered removed). The IJ spoke with me and with Marilyn afterward and encouraged us to speak with the woman and figure out what was going on (which of course was CARA’s plan, too).
Two hours, a lot of pain, and a lot of tears later, we discovered a horrific story of abuse- at the hands of her mother, her first partner,
and extreme violence at the hands of her second partner. There was no mention of this before, out of fear and shame and a hundred other reasons why no one wants to talk about the abuse she suffered. Her interview in front of the asylum officer went poorly as she was nervous and she was not able to respond to the questions the officer asked. Her lack of any formal education limits some comprehension. And the trauma of her life experience clouds everything. We asked her if she had ever shared any of this with anyone. She stated that she had not. And that’s the story of a lot of the horror at Dilley- that this is the first time she has told anyone. And opened the “trauma box.” And there is very little to no psychological support and little to no ability to close the “trauma box.” A lot of lawyering here is counseling, too.
Immediately after a delicious lunch of leftovers, thanks to Chef Carlos, Marilyn and I dove into preparing a young woman for her hearing in front of the IJ tomorrow morning. And with some gentle prodding, another truly terrible story of sexual violence came out, of a woman standing up to a gang leader to protect her mother and her son. She said that she hadn’t told anyone, and certainly not the male asylum officer who questioned her. She fainted when she received a negative decision from her credible fear interview, and was taken to see the psychologist here at Dilley. She is very nervous for tomorrow’s hearing. Marilyn and I will see her at 7:30 AM tomorrow before court, for a pep talk. Fingers crossed for a positive result.
Then, back to the visitation trailer to get to work preparing stays of removal and requests for review for the first woman we were with this morning.
Carlos and Ernie spent the afternoon with two different clients in very long meetings learning the details of their clients’ cases. Both are
Honduran, and both have complicated stories that don’t fit into the clearly defined “boxes” that are so present in these aspects of immigration law. Both have had their credible fear interviews denied and their hearings before the IJ have affirmed the asylum officers’ decision on the credible fear interviews. Both have had requests for reconsideration of the asylum officers’ decision denied as well.
There is a deportation flight scheduled to Honduras leaving at 2 AM on Friday morning. We’re very worried. Carlos and Ernie are working hard to file any all legal motions before this happens.
Yesterday (forgot this sorry; there’s a warped sense of time here) there was a little boy around 3 or 4 years old in the visitation trailer whose mom was talking with one of the attorneys, and he couldn’t see her. He was crying. We decided to go find his mom. I had him on my hip leaning against my arm and then had to lift him up (I’m rather short) to the window of each of the small interview rooms to see if his mom was in there. He got really heavy really fast. And all I could think about was that I hope my arm didn’t fall off and I didn’t drop this kid, and that I hoped that the kid, who was sniffling and crying like crazy, would refrain from wiping his face on the one blazer I would be wearing for the rest of the week. It seemed like forever until we found his mom. And then it finally dawned on me that every woman in the room with young kids carried them across Mexico and whatever other countries she crossed to get here. Likely on her hip. For 2,000 miles. And likely didn’t worry about the kid’s boogers on her damn coat. I could barely make it for three minutes around a trailer. Reality check.
We are tired. Long day. Long week. But angry, inspired, and still ready to fight.
This evening, I took a jog around the trailer park. When I came back, Carlos was cooking dinner. Ernie was working on his motion, and Marilyn was catching up on her writing. #nonstop #goteam
Over our delicious dinner tonight, thanks to Chef Carlos with help from Ernie and Marilyn (I did the dishes I swear) we started talking. About what judgements and assumptions we were making that we were aware of, about what our own vulnerabilities were in terms of listening to women’s stories and how we are coping. More on this tomorrow.
PS. Some of the women and children detained here whose cases are not successful before the asylum officer for a credible or reasonable fear interview or before then before the IJ for review are transferred to the Berks facility in Pennsylvania. Berks is a horror show where last year a guard was convicted (yes, convicted) of sexually assaulting one of the detainees. Advocates have created a “thunderclap” (social mediacampaign) to try to free the Berks moms and their kids who have been detained there for two years (yes, really) to prevent them from having to spend another Christmas in detention. Details here: https://www.thunderclap.it/pro
Dilley, Day 4
We were early to Baby Jail this morning. Marilyn and I headed to the Immigration Court for the IJ review of the credible fear interview for our client from yesterday. It was tough, and the IJ’s questions were difficult (in terms of intensity) for the client was emotional. She reached out for my hand under the table and squeezed it throughout the rest of the hearing. The IJ vacated, meaning that client will be released. So happy for her and for her daughter.
We then stayed for the next case, which was a master calendar hearing for a woman who should have been released last week, but was still in the detention facility. The IJ was upset that the woman was in the facility and called the ICE counsel in to explain what was going on. The ICE counsel stated that the woman would be contacted by ERO (ICE’s Enforcement and Removal Operations) to get her release papers underway. Fingers crossed again.
The little Afghan-Brazilian Baby at the Asylum Office
Bree, the managing attorney here at CARA, pulled me into a CFI prep for the Afghan woman and then asked me to accompany her at her interview before the asylum officer. I recently returned from Iran, know about 3 words of Farsi, which is very similar to Dari, the language that this woman speaks (she speaks quite a bit of Farsi also). Was able to say hello J Client is a 21-year-old young woman with a 5-month-old baby, whom she gave birth to in Brazil en route to the United States. This baby is beautiful, and got a bit fussy because he’s 5 months old. While prepping client for her interview with a Dari-speaking phone interpreter, we needed someone to step in and help with the baby so that I could actually write and client could concentrate. Enter Nora, here also from NYC, who loves babies. We put the baby in a blanket, Nora took one end and client took the other, and rocked the baby to sleep in his little hammock à la Little House on the Prairie.
And then we headed to the Asylum Trailer. As a non-resident or employee of this facility, I needed a staff escort all 50 feet to the trailer. I remember it from when we were here in February. Actually, a lot of the staff here is the same. There were blinking Christmas lights all over, and the doors were encased in Christmas wrapping paper. The guards sat me down in a plastic chair, marked “for attorneys,” directly in front of a plug-in Christmas tree on top of the container for papers to be shredded. I decided to talk to introduce myself to the asylum officers who were around while I waited.
Most of the asylum officers are on detail from Houston and LA Asylum Offices. One man I spoke with on detail from LA told me that he had signed up for 2 months, but then decided to sign on for a year. I asked him what he thought about being here and this process. He told me there were “ups and downs.” He said that it was tough to hear stories every day, and that sometimes it gets repetitive, but that all in all he enjoys his work.
The Asylum Officer (AO) who would be conducting my Afghan client’s interview introduced herself and was very gracious. She actually had a boxed lunch brought to the client, because she had missed lunch to attend the interview. The AO and I discussed the case and what the client would be questioned on before, and then the myriad questions that the AO was required to ask my client was from Afghanistan. I asked her if she (AO) was on detail from an Asylum Office, and she explained that he Houston Asylum Office actually stationed her here in Dilley. She said she had just returned from the Middle East, where she had been on detail in Baghdad. I told her I had just gotten back from Iran. She said that even though Afghanistan isn’t the Middle East, she gets assigned to any and all cases of people from anywhere in the region.
We started the credible fear interview with a Dari interpreter by phone. Adorable baby was asleep in the childcare facility. AO started with the usual questions, including asking client if she had any medical conditions. Client said she had a problem with her leg from the journey. AO asked her to tell her more. Client states that she was bitten by “a creature” somewhere in Central America and rolls up the leg of her pants to show what appears to be an infected wound that is clearly in need of medical attention. Client says that it itches and is sometimes painful. AO encourages her to have medical personnel look at it. [I informed CARA team to follow up on this].
Interview went well. It was long, due to the use of the interpreter and translating and re-translating concepts that didn’t make sense. In short, client’s husband’s family ran a co-educational group of schools in Afghanistan. As you might imagine, this didn’t go over so well with the Taliban. Death threats came in, and became increasingly more severe. When she was 8 months pregnant, client and husband fled from Afghanistan to India, then to Ecuador, then to Brazil where she gave birth to her son, then back to Ecuador with the baby, then to Colombia, Panama, Costa Rica, Nicaragua, Honduras, Guatemala, Mexico and finally the United States. They were arrested by immigration officials in Honduras and Mexico. I’m sure that there are parts of this journey that did not come out clearly, and I can’t even imagine what horrors they were subjected to along the way. And remember, she’s carrying a newborn baby.
Client was physically separated from her husband, who is detained in a facility for men in Port Isabel, Texas. She’s really upset to be away from him, and told the AO how difficult it was for her to be very young, with a tiny baby, and to be separated from her husband. AO printed out a photo of her husband from the Department of Homeland Security’s (DHS) system and gave it to client. She began crying. She kept the photo of her husband in front of her for the remainder of the interview.
AO apologized profusely and told client she would have to ask the terrorism-related questions, to her, and then to the baby. And as she started to ask the questions about the baby’s material support for terrorism, we all realized that this child, who is 5 months old, is a dual national of Brazil and Afghanistan and has actually never stepped foot in Afghanistan.
Client brought out the photo of her husband and held it in front of her baby, pointed at it, and said, in Dari, what translates to “there’s daddy.” The baby grabbed at the photo and smiled and gurgled.
I was sitting to the left of this little family, watching this young mother and beautiful baby so full of hope, longing to be reunited with her husband, with tears rolling down her cheeks, clutch the photo. What must she be thinking, what must the baby be thinking. With Christmas decorations on the walls of Mary, Joseph, and Jesus. A Muslim Holy Family in Dilley. Happy Holidays from Baby Jail.
At the end of the interview, as the AO, client, interpreter, and I all exchanged pleasantries, client thanked the AO for her time, told her that it was very nice to have met her, and then thanked her for “treating her like a human.” We all teared up.
A lot of the volunteers, including Carlos and Ernie, as well as the CARA staff are frantically working on finalizing documents for women from Honduras who have removal orders in order to put stays on their deportations ahead of the scheduled flight on Friday morning. So much hard work today. Fingers crossed.
Momma blew it
So, I packed lunches for our weird little family this morning. Or, at least I attempted to do so. #forgottheforks #forgotthesourcream #forgotthebeans #forgotlikeeverything #basicallyforgottheentiretaceo #momoftheyear #sorrykids
This evening, we had our second Big Table meeting. We gathered at the Days Inn to talk, and went around the circle to discuss our “highs and lows” of the previous week. So many great ideas from volunteers- both return and new- about ideas for the next week. One idea was to create a method to dispel the many rumors that circulate among the women in the facility, some of which are really damaging to their cases. Current rumors:
– You need proof or you won’t pass your credible fear interview. (False)
– All the staff is going on vacation and you’re being transferred back to the hierlas (!False!)
Dilley, Day 5
Fatigue set in this morning. Tough to get out of bed. Tough to get ready. Tough to come into the detention trailer. Tough to hear the news of the day.
Today happened. Ernie’s client and her child were deported on the flight to Honduras in the middle of the night. They were woken up at 2 AM and put on a bus. Did they know what was going on? Where they were going? Did anyone explain anything to them?
We all really thought that the second request for reconsideration, which Ernie so expertly drafted, would be at least read by DHS (Department of Homeland Security). Instead, CARA received a blanket denial on the requests for the clients we submitted last night. We received word in the middle of the afternoon that the woman who Carlos worked with had her request for reconsideration denied. Hopefully a stay of removal will prevent her from being put on a plane. Her claim is strong and she meets all elements. She wasn’t able to tell her story- the full story- before she was swept up in the deportation machine.
We’re a mess today. But trying to be hopeful. It’s really tough. And it’s a really tough way to end this week. #endfamilydetention
Education for Girls; Stop judging
Today, have been working on a request for reconsideration (RFR) for the woman Marilyn and I helped earlier in the week, whom I was with before the IJ and who was not able to share her story of childhood abuse and domestic violence at the hands of her husband until after her denials from both the asylum office and the IJ. We drafted a declaration for her, explaining her horrific history and why it was that she was unable to share her story in front of either adjudicator.
This woman has suffered so much abuse. She’s in pain- both emotional and physical. I can’t even begin to imagine what she’d been through. And as we were talking, both yesterday and then today, I realized that she brought her son, aged 12, with her to the United States and left her daughter, aged 15, behind in her home country. Would her daughter be safe? She would be safe because she would work in the fields. She wouldn’t travel to school like the boys did. That’s why the boys had problems with the gangs. Girls stay home.
I shouldn’t assume anything; I shouldn’t judge anyone. I don’t know the full story, I don’t know what my client is thinking. I won’t ever understand. I’m not her. And I need to get f—k over it. But it was so damn hard not to judge a woman who had left her young daughter in a very dangerous situation, and denied this girl an education.
And yesterday, spend the afternoon working with an Afghan woman who was persecuted because her in-laws’ family supported co-educational opportunities for girls in an area of Taliban rule. A woman who fought to have an education and to help other girls obtain an education.
Hard to wrap my head around these two very different situations. Difficult to not judge. Trying the best that I can. Feeling broken.
Stopping the Deportation Machine
Marilyn and I are trying to stop the deportation machine for the woman I described above, by drafting her declaration and her request for reconsideration (I will still be working on this tomorrow from NYC!) I can only imagine what the client is feeling. We were feeling really depressed about all of this.
Today, we tried to accomplish something. We finalized this client’s declaration, read it to her, incorporated her edits, and had her sign it. She is seeing a psychologist here at the facility, and we had her sign medical releases. Small steps. But these steps were very meaningful for the client, in terms of re-explaining the incredibly complicated process of what will happen next. We re-introduced her to the CARA staff, so that she will know with whom she will be interacting next week. She thanked us and wished us a Merry Christmas. We told her we’d be sending emails to CARA staff to check in on her (and that I’d be working on her legal case from NYC). Hopefully it makes a bit of difference to know that there’s someone thinking about her.
The New Administration?
Chaumtoli asked us to ponder a reflection piece about the new Administration. Honestly, as crazy as this sounds, the potential horrors of the new Administration are actually something I have NOT thought about during my time in Dilley. Why not? Because this situation is so bad that I can’t actually comprehend it getting any worse. Though I know that it could be worse; a lot worse.
Rights don’t matter if you can’t access them
I came to this realization last February, when I first came to Dilley. And it’s still very true today. Carlos told me the story of an indigenous Guatemalan woman he interviewed today who was turned back from a port of entry twice. She tried to enter the United States on the International Bridge at Brownsville, Texas. She was told first, that there was a “party going on” and that “No one’s being allowed in right now.” The second time, she was told “The U.S.is full. We won’t let you in.” She was with her 8-year-old son. They stated that they were afraid. They then crossed by the river, and then were detained and sent to Dilley.
Broken- the system is broken.
This woman and her child did everything correctly under both domestic and international law. They exercised their right to seek asylum. They came to a port of entry (International Bridge), expressed a fear of returning to their home country, and instead of being given a credible fear interview, they were simply pushed back. Twice. They were afraid to go back to Guatemala, so they crossed into the United States illegally via the river. They were not allowed to access their rights.
How the f—k do you not cry?
Marilyn asked me this on Wednesday, otherwise known as sexual violence story day. There was so much pain on Wednesday. And so many tears. And after the second time we had a woman sobbing to us for hours on end, Marilyn asked me this. The only answer is that I’m not entirely sure, but that when someone else breaks down in front of me, I’m instantly in care taker mode and it’s unlikely that I will cry at that moment. It doesn’t mean that I won’t empathize; it doesn’t mean that I won’t feel; it doesn’t mean that it doesn’t affect me.
The four of us sat around our little dinner table in my room in the trailer talking about this. Some of us cry with our clients, some of us cry alone. I tried to remember how I was back in 2009, when I started doing this work at African Services Committee. Have I become something different than when I started?
Out to Dinner!
We’re headed to have a dinner at a restaurant in Pearsall (about 15 miles away; there might actually be a restaurant with decent food?) and then to pack up. I have an early flight tomorrow from San Antonio, and my little family is kind enough to dump me off at the airport before they head to Denny’s for breakfast and a day of sight-seeing around the city.
Update- the restaurant didn’t have alcohol! The look on Carlos’ face was priceless. We thought the waitress was kidding. Apparently not. Interesting news is that the town had a Christmas parade, so everyone was in either cowboy or Santa hats and there was a horse walking around town. We tried to go to the “saloon” for a drink, but there were pick-up trucks with confederate flags. So, we’re having a beer in the trailer.
Thank you for reading. More reflection pieces to follow from all of us. I’m at a loss for words to truly describe this horror show, and can only imagine what will happen come January 20th.
La lucha sigue,