by Lory D. Rosenberg and B. John Ovink

Amazing and outrageous developments keep occurring as the shameful family detention debacle continues at the jail called a “family residential center” in Dilley, Texas. In the past month, we have witnessed:

  • Two CARA pro bono attorneys being ousted and banned from Dilley by ICE for advocating zealously for their clients who were granted bond by Immigration Judges and should have been released
  • Judge Gee issuing a strongly worded Order requiring ICE to stop unlawfully detaining kids and their moms, in violation of the settlement order in the Flores case.
  • Two CARA volunteer attorney securing the release of a woman was detained in Dilley with her teen-age children, despite the fact she is a United States citizen

These events and voluminous evidence of restrictions, intimidation, and deprivations of liberty make it impossible to accept, as the Obama administration insists, that Dilley is anything other than a jail, incarcerating families who have a legal right under the U.S. statutes to seek protection in the United States. The only distinction from any other prison in the U.S. is that this one holds babies and children.

In this cruel and unconstitutional environment, the critical role of the dedicated volunteer immigration attorneys who are working pro bono in the CARA collaboration at Dilley is underscored by these on-the-ground blogs from my friend and colleague B. John Ovink who has been witnessing the heart wrenching and intolerable conditions while working at Dilley this week. Here are some lessons from the telling excerpts from John’s blog:

Monday, day 1: This is not a benevolent family setting but an adversarial context in which DHS Immigration Customs and Enforcement (ICE) calls the shots from an enforcement persepctive. John writes:

. . . saw a total of 11 people today in various stages between detention, waiting for their credible fear interview (CFI), and awaiting their bond hearing. We started 11 hours ago. Dilley is about waiting, rushing and more waiting . . . if you didn't know any better it looks like a first day of kindergarten, meeting, with the parents, their 2, 3 4 and 5 year old kids running around, sleeping on laps, and generally being kids. BUT WHAT KIND OF A COUNTRY IS THIS, WHERE WE ARE KEEPING A 3 YEAR OLD KID IN A JAIL?

Tuesday, day 2: The continuing influx of detained women and children have no one but the volunteer immigration lawyers to help navigate a tedious, unforgiving system. John writes:

Facts first: there are currently 1425 women and children here, a net increase of 403 in last ten days. There are 7 attorneys here, and 5 support staff. And this week we have a psychoanalyst here to document PTSD and trauma.

The first 6 women are sitting in the chairs designated as waiting area, with their children, rubbing eyes because of sleep. They look at us full of hope, because the teams of volunteers who show up here are the only hope they have of ever getting out of here. . . I’ll be in court this morning, to see if the IJ will overturn a horrible negative CFI in which the transcript of the interview with the asylum officer contains statements like: "I find it incredibly unbelievable that you say this" and "I frankly don't believe you." And that's supposed to be non-adversarial.

I’m back from court. Thank you Judge for reversing my client's negative CFI finding. . . that was the highlight of my day. Client cried and hugged. Now we need to get ICE to issue an NTA [a Notice To Appear that allows an inmate to have a bond hearing] and get it filed with the court. They could do that today. [But] ICE keeps "losing" files, and frustrating the process, procrastinating as long as they can.

. . . It's 6:20 [PM], I’ve been going since 7AM this morning. The [second] highlight of my day today was getting a traumatized woman to talk about her trauma, and to find a basis in her story that qualifies her to stay. She’ll have her CFI tomorrow. I hope we win. I love this place. I finally feel I'm practicing law.

There are still 5 women waiting to be seen. I'm amazed at their ability to understand my Spanish, and the effort they make to communicate. . . . Half the people here bring in sworn statements from border agents [Customs and Border Protection- CBP] that are completely made up. For instance, [the women] all say they weren't asked if they are afraid to return to their home country, but the sworn statements all say they are not afraid. Now, if that was one, I'd have doubts. but ALL?

And that brings me to the kids they have with them. They are mighty intelligent. As an example, I read the sworn statement supposedly made by my client's 4 year old, who (without the use of a Spanish translator), was able to tell the CBP officer what time exactly and where she came in, she knew her date of birth, she understood that it was illegal to enter the USA without proper documents, and she also came to the USA to work. And on top of that, she did not have any fear that she would be persecuted if sent back to her own country. At least she refused to sign the statement (says the stamp by CBP at the bottom). For reasons of confidentiality, I can't print this statement. but I saw it with my own eyes today.

Wednesday, day 3: Vigilance under extremely adverse conditions is essential so that the facts of a client’s heart wrenching persecution are told, clients receive needed health care, and are timely released. John writes:

Good morning, friends and followers on the start of day three in Dilley . . .it's 7:20 AM here and we are getting set up for the day. The first women are filing in, dressed in pink, yellow or green tee shirts. I heard yesterday two 4 year olds argue: 'my dad paid our bond before your dad so we get out!' Somehow, I don’t think that's normal behavior for 4 year olds. Of course this is a privately run prison, and our government is paying something like $400 per person per day to be housed here. . . . ICE delaying the detainees release brings a huge profit to someone, and it's paid from your taxes.

Great start . . . My first client was continuously raped by her cousin from ages 7 - 9. Ouch. She’s been here for 10 days without anything happening, and ICE hasn’t issued any documentation to start the process. Welcome to the Dilley “family residence.” And the 2 or 3 year old hysterically wailing in the background got to me. Pushing back tears. This work is very emotional, but satisfying.

The children have to stay with their mothers while we are interviewing them, and they talk about rape, molestation, murder, etc. NO child should be allowed to hear this. We give them a coloring book to distract them. But we’re not allowed to bring any in, and must only use “official supplies.” It’s very distracting for us and the mothers to do 2 hours prep for possibly the most important interview in their lives while their kids are here. It’s like working in a kindergarten.

The good news is my traumatized client passed her CFI today. . . .

A note about healthcare. Client statement: last Sunday her daughter was sick and now limps, She has had a fever since Sunday, but the doctors don’t want to see people on Sunday so they gave her water. Then Monday, she went back, waited 5 hours in hot sun to be attended to. The Dr. said she had a throat infection and they would do some tests and come back later. The Dr. later gave her penicillin. When the daughter cried, the nurse told her don't cry because we don’t give medicine to everybody, and you should feel lucky you get medication. She was given an injection was in her hip. It's been hurting for 3 days, and has not alleviated the symptoms, and now she limps.

John notes that his week at Dilley has not been without its rewards. He has improved his Spanish, deepened his appreciation of children, and participated in one of the most satisfying experiences a lawyer can have: providing the representation and advocacy his clients need to obtain justice.

Stay tuned for more Notes from Dilley, chronicling John’s pro bono experience at Dilley this week. In the meantime, the CARA pro bono effort needs more attorneys, paralegals and equipment to support the women and children at Dilley. You can help by:

Contacting Maheen Taqui at AILA [], one of the CARA partners, if you want to:

  • Volunteer to go to Dilley as an attorney or paralegal
  • Donate a reliable scanner
  • Provide printer ink or another printer and more ink supplies
  • Volunteer to help the women and children with their asylum claims when they post bond and are released to various locations across the country

In addition, John notes that the CARA team on the ground could use help from those outside the facility, who would receive the bond instructions, name of detainee, A# and the name and phone number of their sponsor. Attorneys and legal assistant would then call the sponsor, explain what is needed using sample letters of support, and make sure that they get faxed back quickly. To participate, contact Maheen Taqui at AILA [] who will connect you.

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