LETTER FROM TERRY, A RETIRED ATTORNEY FROM PORTLAND - HER REFLECTIONS
"ICE (Immigration and Customs Enforcement) has a detention center (jail) in Dilley that only houses women with their children fleeing violence in El Salvador, Honduras and Guatemala and seeking asylum in the US. The typical case is a young woman (age 20-30) who was sexually abused as a child and whose husband was killed by a narco-gang and then threats were made against her or her children. She borrowed money to hire a coyote and fled, making the 3 month journey from Central America through Mexico to the border in Texas. Most cross the river illegally (as opposed to walking over the bridge) and are picked up by the Border Patrol. They are then placed in the hielero (refrigerator or ice box), under horrible conditions. There is no privacy, not even for going to the bathroom or showering. It is often cold (thus the name) and the food consists of ham sandwiches. Women and kids are often there for three days. They are interviewed by border patrol officers about who they are and why they came to the US and whether they have a fear of being sent back to their country of origin. Except that all the women I talked to said that the officers did not ask them about their fears; the officers just filled in the form saying they had no fear. None of the women could read the questions and answers because they were written in English (although the interviews were in Spanish).
One of the women I represented refused to sign the document. From the hielero they are sent to Dilley (photo below, from CCA’s website; we were not allowed to take photos. We were also not allowed to wear open-toed shoes. Explain that…) where the first step in the process is the credible fear interview.
On Monday, I got my first case. (BTW, I spent the week before I left for Dilley studying up on immigration law, about which I knew nothing. Yikes.) I prepared a woman, we’ll call her F, from Honduras, with two children, ages 11 and 12, for her credible fear interview in the morning and represented her at the interview in the afternoon. I brought crayons with me for the kids and these two children colored the whole time I worked with F; they were very good artists! We appeared live before an Asylum Officer. F had been living in the US for 6 years, undocumented, but married to an American citizen. She left her kids with her parents and sent money back to support the whole family. Her children were abused by F’s sisters and she only found out about it when she bought a cell phone for the kids and they were able to talk to her out of hearing of the aunts. As soon as she learned of the abuse, F went to Honduras to bring her kids to the US. She could not stay in Honduras for fear of persecution. Here’s why: two years ago F’s father murdered his mistress and was serving time in prison. The family of the murdered mistress had beaten up F’s brother (so that he fled to the US) and continued to harass the family, appearing near the family’s house brandishing guns and machetes. F maintained that since she was the eldest daughter and the murder victim was the eldest daughter, under the ‘eye for an eye’ cultural belief in her community, she would be targeted for death by the victim’s family.
OUTCOME OF CASE
F. had to prove that she had a credible fear of persecution if she were deported and that she fell into a ‘particular social group’ (technical asylum law stuff). But the standard is low at this stage; you only need to show a 10% chance of being able to prevail at an asylum hearing to win and be released with a temporary work permit pending a full asylum hearing.
The Asylum Officer asks all the questions in the interview. My role was to ask a few questions at the end if I thought she had not gotten all the relevant facts and to make legal arguments, if necessary. The Asylum Officer does not rule on the case then and there but let’s F know in a few days. I found out that F. won her credible fear interview when I looked up whether she had been released, and she had.
TO BE CONTINUED: Pat's note. It is important to understand what it is like for attorneys working within detention centers to try to get people paroled and asylum cases accepted.
On Christmas eve the U.S. Department of Homeland Security announced that it would begin raids on Central American families who had arrived during the summer and fall of 2014. Homeland Secretary Jeh Johnson said that they would deport families who had "received their final deportation orders" and "exhausted all legal remedies. Depite strong protests from the immigrant advocate groups, attorneys, religious and Latino communities, nothing has stopped the effort to deport women and children back to the same terrible conditions that they fled.
I am back home in Portland, Oregon and have been busy with other immigration advocates to establish a rapid response
system to prepare for raids in this metro area. The Interfaith Movement for Immigrant Justice (IMIRJ) is working to expand the number of sanctuary congregations anticipating the need for safe haven for those facing immediate deportation.
The reality is that most of these families neither can find an immigration lawyer nor afford the fees to hire someone. A woman from Guatemala that I visited in the Eloy Detention Center in Arizona wrote me in early January asking if I could help hire an attorney for her final asylum hearing on February 11, 2016. She knows that without legal representation that her chances of being granted asylum are very slim. According to the Migration Policy Institute (2015) more than 80 percent of Salvadoran, Guatemalan and Honduran women screened by asylum officers were found to have a credible fear of persecution if they return to their homes. LIke my friend in the Eloy Detention Center most of them cannot afford an attorney.
Casa Mariposa in Tucson, Arizona is part of CIVIC, a national non-profit organization that links volunteers to visit people in detention. It is hard work visiting detainees because you know that there is little that one can do about their situation other than to support them emotionally and listen to their stories. One volunteer said to me, "I have concluded that the best thing I can do is to find an attorney for them." I am not in a position to help with an attorney but I have written Casa Mariposa to ask that a volunteer accompany her to her hearing so that she is not alone.
One way that you can help is to create more Sanctuary congregations in the United States. Watch this video to get inspired and to get involved: http://sanctuary2014.org/#sanctuary.
Later, I will post a letter from a local attorney who spent a week in Dilley, Texas at the detention center there where she could provide legal help. If you have a week to donate your services as a lawyer, contact the group in her letter. Keep the pressure on President Obama to stop the deportations by signing this petition. /http://www.notonemoredeportation.com/take-action/tell-the-president-cease-deportations/
The only good news this week was the Supreme Court's decision to hear the Texas case that stopped the implementation of President Obama's executive order (November 2014) that would permit about 4 million undocumented persons with U.S. citizen or resident children to receive work permits and to not fear deportation. Let's hope that the Supreme Court hears the case sooner than April of this year and that the judges uphold the President's action.
My life has been about crossing borders and cultures and building bridges across the boundaries that normally divide. Have you crossed any borders in your life?