Women of the Fifth’s co-founder, Kristin Clarens spent the week of July 9th working with a devoted team of Spanish-speaking mama lawyers, doctors, and activists to help the moms and children at the border in Dilley, Texas — the largest family immigrant detention center in the United States.
The following is a collection of posts that describe what they saw, what they did, and what they learned about how we can all help these courageous families seeking refuge.
Post contributors are:
- Kristin Clarens
- Vidya Kumar Ramanathan
- Jessica Richman Dworkin
- April Thompson Wimberley
***trigger warning: family separation and the intense trauma asylum-seekers endure are mentioned***
July 8, 2018 – Day 1
Our team arrived in Texas earlier today and we head to work in a few minutes. We’ve had a lucky trip so far and I’m hoping it’s a sign we’ll get lots done while we’re here. So far: UNESCO heritage mission site, a mariachi mass, superb candle collection at the grocery store (now in my room), and some inspirational/ironic messages along the way.
Three lawyers, a pediatrician, a paralegal, and a healing arts and wellness specialist. Long, long day but we are eager to meet the women and children of the South Texas Family Residential Center (aka Baby Jail) to see how we can help. We’ve got Spanish, the law, brains, and passion on our side. Wish us luck. Xo
Got to Dilley, TX today. Met some really inspiring people, and we are still sitting through an incredibly comprehensive 4 hour long orientation. Stopped by Mission Concepcion on the way. Very eager to start working bright and early tomorrow at the detention facility. We are so grateful to so many of you for your immense generosity!! Also, special thanks to so many individual friends who advised me, lending their legal, psychological, medical, language, and spiritual expertise. Thank you all for your love and support. We will write updates every night. ❤️
July 9, 2018 – Day 2
I said the phrase “baby jail” way too often today. I also learned that perreira, slang for dog pound, is used by moms to describe the buildings with the cages where families are housed temporarily. Prior to that, they spend time in the hielera—slang for ice box, the place they’re held initially that’s so cold they’re given emergency blankets and many of the kids turn blue. I can’t share details of the mothers and children (some of whom are younger than a year) we worked with today (for 14 hours!) or pictures of the facility, but i can share a few early observations: Government ineptitude and straight-up bad guy shenanigans are rampant. This stuff is confusing and stressful but that doesn’t explain way too many ICE actions/decisions. Kids are still being separated from parents. Children have been tremendously traumatized. And asylum law doesn’t help many of the most vulnerable families, which is beyond heartbreaking.
Below is a pic from my hotel room, with trucks driving to and from the border south of us.
Just finishing up my first day at #Dilley. It was a 15 hour day – more than 13 hours at the detention center meeting with clients, and then a few hours back at the hotel regrouping with the team, and entering case notes into the electronic filing system. Trying to think about what struck me today: the incredible strength of the women I met with. They have lived through unspeakable horrors, travelled dangerous paths – with small children – to get to safety, been placed into detention, and sometimes abused by various government representatives, and then today – they were asked to sit down with me. A complete stranger. And I asked them trust me, and to tell me the most horrific, intimate details of their lives. Stories that, in some instances, could get them killed just because they were shared.
And the amazing thing? They did that. They placed their trust in me and my colleagues. They did it without question. They did it while retelling their stories, with their children on their laps. Children that, shockingly, slept through their interviews – even though the interviews were sometimes 1-2 hours long. And regardless of the time of the day – they slept. And that is perhaps what struck me most of all. The children slept. Even when it wasn’t close to being naptime. All I can assume is that they were exhausted from the journey and the trauma that they’d been through, and that they are still experiencing.
And that was Day 1 of Dilley. Amazing women. Amazing children. And I hope their journey to a new life in the US feels a bit more hospitable and hopeful than it did yesterday because of the pro bono service that our team provided.
Finishing up a 14 hour day of work. Lots to process. Many heart breaking moments (including the term “baby jail” heard and spoken often, and numerous tales of extreme bravery from the mothers), but a bright moment in the day: a young child pulled on my skirt and asked if she might color. I happened to have a box of crayons and some papers. So I suddenly had a flock of children around me for a few minutes and ended up with a few very precious mementos. Please note the woman with the high heels in front of the house in the first picture. It is the child as she sees herself in the future. Hope lives in the hearts of children. ❤️❤️❤️❤️
July 10, 2018 – Day 3
“Hay que seguir las reglas!” or “You have to follow the rules!” #Dilley, Day 3. I’ve gotten a lot of responses to my posts (publicly and privately) asking about how to help, what can be sent, what it is like here, etc. So today I thought I would share a little bit about The Rules. Because we are in a federal detention center (I’m sorry, a RESIDENTIAL center) there are a lot of rules that must be followed – but there are more rules than that at play here. multiple layers of rules. So let’s dive in:
Baby Jail rules: Rules for the lawyers: 1. No open toed shoes. 2. No sleeveless tops. 3. No cell phones. 4. No Apple watches (can I tell you how naked I feel without my watch and phone?). 5. No giving ANYTHING to the clients – not even food or water. (For example, today I bought 2 coloring books and boxes of crayons to allow the children to play with – they were not allowed inside of Baby Jail.) 6. No touching the clients – no physical consolation of crying children or clients, no hugs of support, no hand on someone’s shoulder. No. Touching. 7. No entry without ID, metal detector, being wanded, signing in and out of the facility. 8. No leaving the legal services trailer unaccompanied. For any reason. 9. No photos on the premises – no pictures of the Baby Jail, no pictures of the grounds, no pictures of the driveway, no pictures at all. 10. No sitting in the legal trailer without actively working with clients – if we are seen relaxing, taking a break, sometimes even working at our computers on cases – we could be asked to go home, so it is non-stop clients all the time.
Rules for the clients: These are a bit harder to ascertain, but I’ll try. 1. it seems that the clients need paperwork to go a lot of places, kind of like hall passes. 2. Wear your photo ID at ALL times – this is how clients check into and out of our legal services trailer. Even the kids. 3. Mothers must keep their kids under control at all times – but there isn’t a lot to do at times, so this can be a challenge. I’m sure there are other rules, but I don’t think I really understand them all. Perhaps I’ll ask tomorrow.
Dilley, Texas rules: 1. Don’t drink the water – it contains heavy metals. 2. This a town of about 3000 people – the best restaurant is Bobby’s Tacos. It is actually a food truck – learn how to get from Baby Jail to the food truck for a lunch break and opportunity to look at a cell phone/email. The nearest grocery store is about 20 minutes away – stock up on bottled water, and whatever else one might want – but DON’T share it with your clients!
It may seem that these rules are tough, and sometimes I think about complaining, but then I remember that there are another set of rules that many of these women lived under before coming here – and those rules are WHY the women came here.
Here are some examples of Rules That Might Make You Seek Asylum: 1. Do whatever your husband/partner/boyfriend says. Anything. Even if you don’t want to. 2. See rule number 1 – now imagine that this also includes having sex (or you’ll be raped), giving up custody of your children (or they’ll be murdered), quietly accepting a beating (or being beaten again)… you get the idea. 3. See rule number 2, but now imagine that the rule maker isn’t your husband/partner/boyfriend but is instead your father/brother. 4 See rule number 3, but now imagine that the rule maker isn’t your father/brother, but is instead a random gang member. 5. Don’t look at someone the wrong way, or you will be killed (you will never know exactly what “the wrong way is”). 6. Don’t over hear things, or you will be killed. 7. Don’t see things, or you will be killed. 8. Don’t talk to the wrong person, or you will be killed. 9. Don’t talk to the police, or you will be killed. 10. Don’t go to a judge, or you will be killed. 11. Don’t wear the wrong clothes, or you will be killed (also, you will never know exactly what “the wrong clothes” are). 13. Don’t be a snitch, or you will be killed. 14. If you are lucky, you won’t be killed for violating Rules 1 – 13. Instead you might be able to right your wrongs by allowing yourself, or your daughter, to be raped instead.
After thinking about all of these Rules, I have realized a couple of things. First, I’m quite content to not wear my sandals because all things considered, life isn’t so bad. More importantly, these women have essentially lived in a jail for significant portions of their lives. They came to the United States seeking better conditions – for themselves, and for their children. They deserve this. After surviving the last set of rules I explained, in horrific ways I can’t begin to describe to you all (but in ways that will likely literally give me nightmares), I say – without hesitation – these women are the bravest people I have ever met in my life. AND THEY DESERVE BETTER.
From Vidya (7:57am):
The women we met yesterday spoke to us about direct threats to their lives at home. Having a gun pointed at their temples and threatened with death if they didn’t pay their “rent” to the MS-13 each week as expected. So when they eventually ran out of money, they would gather whichever children they could carry and those old enough to walk the distance and actually walk, ride buses, run, swim the 1000+ mile journey to get here. Sometimes this journey got sidetracked if they were caught by ill-intentioned people along the way. You might end up hostage in someone’s house, raped for months, before you could escape with your baby. But these women are so brave, so resilient. “Why did you choose to come here?” “Because I wanted my children to be safe.”
Everyone deserves to be free. Everyone deserves to be safe and secure. This should be the American promise. This should be the world we are trying to create.
Rested and ready to start a new day.
We ran out of Kleenex today. 😢 💔
The facility is nearly full— thousands of women and children, mostly from Central America, are surprisingly relieved to be in the detention center following the conditions they endured, in their home countries and then here in ours, especially at the perreira (“dog pound”), where many of them were placed in separate cages from their children. We were in the detention center for twelve hours again today. Every 90 minutes or so, the waiting room fills with more women and children. We work to explain the asylum process and to prepare them for their credible fear interviews with asylum officers (a heart wrenching process that involves them recounting their stories to us with lots of details), and occasionally need to entertain their traumatized and often sick children (as we are missing our own). Below is a pic of how I kept a five-year-old girl from crying this evening while her mom talked with a lawyer about what happened to her before she fled.
Another heavy day, with over 12 hours of work at the detention facility.
A Mother who through tears, describe the nightmares she has of the men who threatened her family back home- dreams filled with ugly, strange creatures, loud shrieks and crying, and when she awakens, she wonders whether she was ever asleep.
A small child draws a picture for me. It shows her and her sister, hiding beneath her bed. Back home- where she used to love the food, but she didn’t like the sadness.
These were the same stories we heard countless times today.
May they find peace and security.
July 11, 2018 – Day 4
Dilley, TX, population 3,674*
*Not including approximately 2,000 immigrant mothers and children held at the family detention center and 1,300 American men incarcerated at Dilley’s Dolph Roscoe prison, just a minute’s drive down the road. In other words, the number of detained men, women, and children here would roughly double the town’s population. If they counted.
The kids in the waiting room were given boxes of crayons today and I started thinking about color. It’s much less green here than it is in Virginia—not quite the desert I was expecting, but very tan. I’ve hardly seen the super bright Texas sun because we get to the facility at seven and we don’t leave until sunset. But when we walk between the clinic and the asylum offices the light is shocking. The women and kids are given sweatshirts, T-shirts, jeans and shoes in bright primary colors, and when they hide in the shadows up against the facility’s trailer walls they look like graffiti. I search the crowds for the women and children I’m working with based on the colors they were given when they were processed— as if that somehow says something about them and any choices they could make. It’s a super strange built environment that after just a few days has started to seem normal to me. Other colors that stood out to me: the pearly pink nail polish of the asylum officer typing my client’s story during our interview, and the fluorescent yellow highlighting of the clients in our intake book who have suffered domestic violence (the majority of the names are highlighted).
There were more women and kids today than yesterday. Most of them cross the river rather than going through ports of entry since many women are pressured at the border to turn around (because “the USA isn’t taking domestic or gang violence victims anymore”). The river is dirty and smelly; the families stay in the same clothes for days after they’re taken into custody. Children age ten and older are separated from their parents while they’re processed in the perreira and the hielera, and this usually takes about a week (these are the cage pictures we’ve seen on the news).
This is a pic of our facility, from as close as we’re allowed to take photos.
I’m so tired I almost didn’t post anything. But then I thought, TIRED?! I’m TIRED?! After hearing more stories of what these women have endured, feeling “tired” seems like a bad joke. If only these women, these humans like me with minds and bodies and beating hearts, these women who have been beaten and raped and scared sick – if only they could come home after a long day of hard work and a good meal, to rest in a comfortable bed in a safe place, could feel such tiredness. I wish that for them.
Exhausted. Today’s word of the day from #Dilley is exhausted. We started the day a little later than yesterday, with the promise of also finishing earlier. But I’ve just arrived to my hotel room (it is 11pm), and still have work to do before bed so I can wake up and do it again tomorrow.
All my clients today were intense – in the most amazing of ways. They had incredible stories of awful things that they had overcome. The love for their children was palpable. We shared tears. And I reassured them that they’d done the right thing for their kids by taking the chance to come here – because I knew that had I been in their shoes, I’d have done the same thing.
But perhaps the most meaningful thing I did today was the least personal. I gave the “Intake Charla” presentation (charla means chat in Spanish) to a bunch of newly arrived women and children – to explain who we (the lawyers) were, that we didn’t work for the government, that we were a bunch of volunteers who had come from all over the country (and even internationally!) just to be there to volunteer our time to work for them, and to serve them. And that most of all, I wanted to say WELCOME to the United States, and even though they probably had doubts at times, that we were all genuinely happy that they were there. We filled out some initial paperwork, and I saw in their faces the faces of people that I love. Family, friends, jokesters, worried Mamas, classmates, colleagues – people I know and love dearly were mirrored in the expressions of these women.
Today, my clients smiled with me; laughed with me; cried with me; we joked about my Spanish accent (Guayaca for life!); we joked about their funny Spanish accents and our struggles at times to understand each other; I colored with their children; I taught a little boy to play “I Spy” (a favorite game of Eleanor – my daughter) to get him to stop crying, relax, tell me his name and come out of his shell; I talked about how silly the cartoons on the tv (there is a children’s play area in the legal consult area for the kids – but the only thing to do there is watch tv) with a couple of girls from Brazil who were mesmerized that I could speak Portuguese with them; I instructed little girls to draw beautiful butterflies for me so I could discuss tough topics with their mothers without their ears focused on what we were saying; I drafted legal pleadings. Today I lawyered, and I mothered other people’s children. And it was all equally important, needed, and appreciated.
It was a tough, exhausting day. And yet… I look forward to doing it all again tomorrow!
July 12, 2018 – Day 5
We were all over the spectrum today! Last night we learned that many of the families supposedly being reunited this week were arriving at Dilley this afternoon. I felt like a kid on Christmas morning getting to the visitation trailer this morning—the thought of sharing some happiness with these families was so exciting. Instead, as soon as we arrived, we were asked to read the new guidance implementing Sessions’ announcement that basically prohibits victims of gang and domestic violence from seeking asylum in this country. Such heartbreak as we talked through our clients’ newly weakened cases with them, followed by total joy when we witnessed parents see kids they’ve been missing for more than a month. (Don’t believe the NYT article: they most definitely remember their families. For shame.)
I learned this morning that the campus where I spent this week is nearly 70 acres but I can’t remember having moved less in the last ten years. We are entirely relegated to our “traila.” I went rogue this afternoon to spend a few minutes in the sun on the steps out in front. The guard I made friends with followed me outside, cringing, and told me to duck inside if I saw an ICE agent. I appreciated the rich irony of having a baby jail guard warn me about how awful ICE is.
The guards, the hotel folks, and the taco truck peeps (the only people I’ve spoken to since coming to Texas) are all intensely proud of their Tex-mex heritage. They ask me if I’ve seen Coco (👍🏻). But we took a quick trip to the border at Laredo last night and it was a true militarized zone: helicopters flying, bright lights shining, guard dogs barking, search vehicles hidden in the bushes by the roadside. It is confusing to say the least.
Here are some pics of Laredo last night, as I sit with our group debriefing on the day.
There are so many things I could post every night after working at the baby jail. But what do you guys want to know? If you have any questions about the women, the children, the conditions, the workers, the rules, the asylum process, anything, just let me know. If I can’t answer, I’ll try to find someone who can! I would like everyone to know the real story as it’s playing out on the ground. Also: bottled water. Because the tap water in Dilley, Texas is contaminated with heavy metals, including lead, and is unsafe to drink. I’ll let you guess whether the moms and kids at the baby jail — or Americans living in poverty here — get bottled water.
All the mamas at the detention center have to listen carefully every day to the detailed and technical information being told to them, and then they have to spend hours talking with the lawyers. This is difficult for anyone, especially for someone who has recently fled violence, and then been detained, and is uncertain of her family’s future and security. It makes it harder that they have small children to watch as well. So, there is a small room at the end of the trailer where the kids can gather, watch movies, and let Mami try to concentrate for a few minutes.
I was sitting next to this room today writing my affidavits; the movie “Rio” was playing loudly. Suddenly, a scary part came on – there was fire, commotion, and a lot of noise.
I looked in and saw 3 kids had tuned it out and were coloring. One little girl sat watching quietly with a lone tear going down her face. I went to her, wiped her tear, and told her that the movie is not real. Thinking of the trauma she must have witnessed already in her young life, I suggested turning off the TV. She looked surprised and said (in Spanish), “Please don’t. I want to see the happy ending.”
May we all have the patience, courage, and faith to wait for the happy ending. ❤️
So many reflections as I am back with my family.
Here are just a few:
- Those women were willing to face any kind of harm to themselves if it meant that their children had the possibility of safety. They watched other family members getting killed around them and then they literally picked up their children and ran. They knew this meant possible capture along the way, rape, beatings, only to end up in jail here, but it was all done for the faint glimmer of hope that their children might end up safe. THIS is the true meaning of sacrifice.
- Children need their parents. Seeing a crying child crawl into his mother’s arms and feel immediate comfort was much more poignant in Dilley, knowing what those babies had been through. Many families had been separated even for a few days prior to coming to this Center, so anytime we took the mother aside to speak to her, the children thought they might get separated again. We tried to keep them together as much as possible to avoid retraumatizing these little ones. They are going to need long term care.
- Going down for a very quick trip to the border was scary. We stayed on the US side. There were so many helicopters, border police, and guard dogs. We even had to go through a check point where they shined bright lights in our car and asked if we were all citizens. It felt like the highly militarized Thai-Burma border to me. I can only imagine how it must feel for these women and children at the end of their journey.
- I will never forget the haunted looks of despair in those women’s eyes.
- I am overwhelmed with gratitude for my life. ❤️🙏🏼
Jumble of Humanity, and Reflections from #Dilley (this is a long one):
I am home now, writing this post from the comfort of my living room. I didn’t write an update yesterday after my last day at Dilley because I was exhausted and simply didn’t have time – so I wanted to do that now.
My experience at Dilley was incredibly impactful – for me, and hopefully for those that I served while I was there. First and foremost, I owe a huge debt of gratitude to CARA Pro Bono Project with whom I volunteered, and to April Thompson Wimberley and Kristin Clarens who fundraised to cover the out of pocket costs of our pro bono efforts (more on that later), and allowed me to join their team and share in this experience. I am also incredibly grateful and appreciative to the women who I represented while in Dilley. They trusted me, they opened up to me, they shared their most horrific experiences with me. Sometimes they were frustrated with me – I pushed them to share more, to remember more, to be more specific, to tell me over and over again about the same events from their past. They had every right to be frustrated and even angry – and they were not. They were patient, and gracious with me. They understood that I was doing my best to help them – and they did every thing they could to allow me to put forward my best efforts on their behalf.
I entered this experience (and physically entered the Baby Jail) fully prepared to see evil in the hearts and eyes of the guards, of the asylum officers, of everyone involved in the detention of our clients. I didn’t find that. The guards and asylum officers that I interacted with were kind, had a sense of humor, they were humble, they were respectful – they were human. One even confided in me that he understood that the detention center could close tomorrow, and while that would mean he would no longer have a job, he was thrilled to see the influx of attorneys there and hoped that in fact he WOULD lose his job – in the very near future. It was an amazing, encouraging, and surprising thing for me to hear. The asylum officers also reflected a wide range of humanity – certainly some were better than others. But the specific asylum officer whose work I observed personally was amazing. She was empathetic and kind – she did her job professionally, and as she was trained – but she was not without emotion. She tried to make my client (who was sobbing – at times uncontrollably) as comfortable as possible given the circumstances. In fact, my client thanked her at the end of the interview for listening to her story, for recording it, for documenting it, and in doing so in recognizing the reality of her situation – whatever the outcome.
And that brings me to the women. Their stories – what they have been through – is the stuff of nightmares. I feel like I’m still processing all that I heard. I already knew a decent amount about MS-13 and other gangs from Honduras, El Salvador, Guatemala, Mexico and many of the other countries these women came from. And yet… I had no idea.
(Warning – skip this paragraph if you don’t want to know more about their histories). The things I heard were utterly shocking and horrifying – I want to share some of the specifics with you but I will not answer any other questions about these details as I need to preserve anonymity and confidentiality. I am not going to speak about the countries that they came from other than to say, my work involved Spanish and Portuguese speaking clients, and that the clients in Dilley hail from many regions of the world. Some of the details below are composite stories of similarly themed events: These women were raped, they were beaten, they were told they were worthless and had less value than garbage, they witnessed others being shot – sometimes their own family members, they were told if they spoke to anyone they (or their loved ones) would be killed. They feared the kidnapping of their children, the rape, or torture, or murder of their children. They’d heard stories of parents of kidnapped children receiving packages containing fingers of their children – as further threats. They sometimes heard the screams of people as they were being raped or tortured. They witnessed people being kidnapped who disappeared completely, and never again returned. Sometimes these people were their family members. They saw children being set on fire. They rarely felt they could go to the authorities to report these crimes. When they did report crimes, they were ignored, or told that no one cared. Judges would offer to provide police protection to witnesses who came forward – but only if sexual favors were provided to the judge in exchange. They’d lost all hope in their legal systems to protect them. They were victims of political corruption, of callousness, of gang violence, and broken legal systems – in short, they were victims of what happens when there is no rule of law. They were petrified, they were unable to sleep, they worried about the physical safety of themselves and their children. Sometimes their own parents told them to get out of their countries to save themselves. They worried about those they’d left behind – and sometimes those people were their own children. Women had to make unimaginable decisions about which children to bring (decisions informed by which of their children were sufficiently healthy to make the journey, which were old enough to handle the days, weeks, or even months, of the incredibly difficult trip). Sometimes they had to think about how many people they could afford to save, and then choose those that were most at risk to accompany them – forever haunted by the questions and doubts creeping into their minds about the fate that would befall those left behind. And this was all before their journey began. The journey itself was often full of the same threats repeated all over again.
These women were nothing short of amazing, and brave, and courageous. During our legal consults I asked them so many questions, made them delve deep into their stories, share all the details, and then do it over and over again. At times, I would have to tell them that while their stories were horrific, they likely did not rise to the level of what was required to obtain asylum. I would push them to see if they could remember additional details that would help us with their case – and very much to their credit – they would answer us honestly, sometimes crying and telling us that “No, there was nothing else.” They said this even though I’m sure they understood that if they lied and told us more, it might advance their case. Their honor was incredibly important to them – so for all the doubters out there, who think that asylum seekers are liars taking advantage of the system, I am absolutely convinced, from my first-hand experience and observations that this is not true in large numbers. These women were so emotional, so raw, so clearly traumatized during our conversations – and so incentivized to lie – and Yet. They. Didn’t… They. Told. The. Truth… The whole ugly truth – even when it wasn’t to their advantage.
I want to be absolutely clear about the people I met. They are EXACTLY the type of people I’d wish to have as fellow American citizens. They were diverse – from many different backgrounds. Some were quite humble, some were successful business people, some were educated, some were illiterate, they were all different races and religions. But they were all loving of their children, worried about protecting their families, absolutely committed to telling the truth – to having their stories heard, and to starting their lives anew (no easy task!). They knew they came without language skills, without financial resources, without anything – and yet they came. They had to come. Some confided that they’d never wanted to come, but they had no other choice. I believe them. I heard them. I saw them. I respect them. And, I believe them.
The last group of people I want to talk about are the staff of the CARA Pro Bono Project, and my fellow volunteers. The staff of Cara were absolutely amazing. They work arduous hours every day of the week. They train and support their volunteers (who change weekly!), the handle the most difficult asylum cases, they manage the process, they support volunteers not only with technical knowledge, but also – and perhaps as importantly – they support volunteers emotionally. They have all my admiration and respect. And the volunteers – we were a team of lawyers, legal assistants, pediatricians, trauma specialists, and concerned citizens. Many of us had never met before, and we immediately functioned as a team – helping each other, supporting each other, sharing resources and expertise, respecting each other and forming friendships with one another. The picture with this post is a photo from our team meeting last night. I hesitate to include it, because it looks so lovely and relaxing – we met in a hotel conference room, and after the stress of the week insisted on meeting around the small pool – dipping our legs in to take advantage of any minute opportunity to relax. This was our lone moment of relaxation of the week, so I don’t want to give the impression that this was a vacation – it was not. But I do want you to see the incredible volunteers who I served with. You’ll notice that many of them are wearing the same black t-shirts. That was a team of volunteer attorneys from Hogan Lovells (from many different offices) – Hogan is sending groups of attorneys for several weeks to Cara (and my understanding is that many other firms have done the same – but my shout out is to Hogan as that is who was there with me). Some of you also asked for the gender breakdown of the volunteers – and I think it is important for you to see that there were both men and women dedicated to this work.
I imagine I’ll be unpacking and processing this experience well into the future. Thank you for reading along, for following this journey, and for sending incredible message of support.
One final note of thanks – to Matthew who took care of everything on the home front, including our own two children, so that I could focus on this difficult work. None of this would have been possible without his incredible support for this, and my next great adventure (stay tuned!).
A number of you have asked me, either privately or publicly, what you can and how you can contribute to the cases of the detained women, children (and men – let’s not forget the men – they just happened to be at a different facility from where I was!).
I actually have several suggestions.
1. There are already many organizations nationally that are receiving a lot of attention, and donations. That is amazing. But the organization I volunteered with, is NOT benefitting from any of those donations – and they desperately need them. I volunteered with CARA Pro Bono Project. They provide free representation to EVERY mother/child(ren) in the Dilley, Texas Baby Jail (aka South Texas Family Residential Center). This is different from some of the other organizations out there who cherry pick their clients – CARA does it all. They help prepare clients for Credible Fear Interviews (this is how I spent the bulk of my time) which is the first step in a long process to obtain asylum – when clients receive a positive result from the Credible Fear Interview, they are almost always released from detention and allowed to live freely while they continue their legal asylum cases.
CARA needs more resources. They have only one attorney on staff, and several support staff. They need at least one more attorney – but this costs money. They also need resources. The internet in Dilley is slow, and unreliable. CARA has two hotspots, only two. That is two hotspots for everyone – which in our case was nearly 50 people. At times (let’s be frank – MOST times), I couldn’t access the internet, and had to do work late at night from the hotel which wasn’t ideal. I’m still doing work from my home in Atlanta as I couldn’t get it all done their with their limited internet. I have asked CARA to provide me with specific details about the kind of hotspots they need, and then will be making a specific ask so that we can provide that to them. And they’ll need it fast as they are expecting a huge influx of detainees next week.
2. Volunteer your time. CARA always needs more people on the ground. You don’t need to be a lawyer, you dont need immigration experience. You don’t need to speak Spanish. You just need to be willing to volunteer your time. Please reach out to CARA to volunteer – and know that they may be slow responding to you (see the need above – they are understaffed, and the logistics take work!), but they WILL respond.
3. Volunteers for this organization, as well as many others, must provide for their own expenses. These expenses include travel (flights, hotels, meals, etc.) and other out of pocket costs. I have filed the paperwork for a new non-profit to provide grants to cover these expenses for pro bono attorneys who wish to help in a variety of causes and social justice issues. This would certainly be included. I am waiting for final approval before I am officially allowed to solicit donations and grant applications – but if you want to be among the first to know when this happens – please follow https://www.facebook.com/almaforjustice/. I expect to have an official launch imminently. It is my hope that ALMA will enable lawyers to help with many issues going forward so that we can mobilize more attorneys to work with more non-profits and we can strengthen the Rule of Law in our own country. Please consider donating once I’m able to officially ask.
4. Finally, continue to be the warriors that you all are. Vote. Call and write to your elected representatives. Donate and volunteer when you can – whether it be your time or your money. Small contributes make huge differences in the aggregate. Don’t overlook the local organizations that may not be getting as much press, but which also desperately need your help. Make#GoodTrouble.