"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.