Moms and Children in Jail Need Us

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by on April 5, 2016 in Blog, English

Right now there are about four hundred women and children detained in Karnes City, Texas.  They are asylum seekers, fleeing violence in Central America.  These women and children have no right to free legal representation and are required to go through a complicated and technical asylum screening process to determine whether they will be permitted to stay in the US.  Many of them are failing their preliminary interviews and being deported.  You do not have to speak Spanish or know immigration law to help them.  In fact, you don’t even need to leave your office. Calling all Austin immigration attorneys and beyond: if you have been seeking your next meaningful pro bono project, look no further.

In the summer of 2014, the Department of Homeland Security began detaining women and children coming to the US border seeking asylum from Central American countries.  Of three facilities used to detain these families, one is located only two hours outside of Austin.  The Karnes Detention Center is a jail that was converted to house families in August 2014.  Many of the early detainees in Karnes were held for months before release.  My first client detained there was a seven year old girl with brain cancer who received no treatment during the month she was detained.  There were hunger strikes, allegations of solitary confinement and other retaliation, and complaints about living conditions and lack of medical care.   After litigation and advocacy, the situation has settled into a relatively short period of detention for the families who successfully pass the credible fear interview, the threshold eligibility determination for asylum.  These women and children are released and allowed to live with friends or family while they go through their full-fledged asylum hearings.  

Yet many women are failing their initial interview and are being deported.  An applicant for asylum who arrives at the border seeking protection or who is apprehended after crossing into the US must pass a credible fear interview to be allowed to remain in the US.  The credible fear interview is administered by an asylum officer, usually within two weeks of her detention.  She will be required to recount her history and reason for fear of return to her home country, demonstrating that she has suffered past persecution or has a well-founded fear of future persecution based on one of five protected grounds for asylum: race, religion, nationality, political opinion, or membership in a particular social group.  After successfully passing a credible fear interview, she is required to prove her eligibility for asylum to an immigration judge who decides whether to grant asylum.  But many women in Karnes are fleeing gang violence and are unable to articulate whether they have been persecuted on account of a protected ground.  If an applicant fails her credible fear interview, she has the opportunity for review in front of an immigration judge.  If the judge affirms the denial and the asylum office cannot be convinced to reconsider its denial, the applicant and her children are deported.

This is where you come in.  The Karnes Pro Bono Project (operated by RAICES in San Antonio) needs pro bono attorneys to help with credible fear interview reviews before the immigration judges in San Antonio.  The opportunities to help range from going to Karnes and preparing women for their credible fear interview reviews, to representing them in court, to drafting credible fear interview briefs before the hearings or requests for reconsideration to the asylum office.  If you want to help but cannot commit to in-person representation, you can draft a brief using a template that will be provided to you, which is a time investment up to five hours.  If you want to go in person but don’t speak Spanish, you can use the free phone translation available onsite at Karnes.  On Monday through Thursday of each week, a RAICES attorney will be available onsite to guide you.  An online training module is available to volunteer attorneys and you can be partnered with a mentor.  For more information or questions, feel free to reach out to me: [email protected].  If you are ready to start helping, please email Andrea Meza at RAICES: [email protected].