The following is the final part of a 3 part series about my experience working at the South Texas Family Residential Center (aka baby jail) in Dilley, Texas. You can read Part 1 here, and Part 2 here.
Day 9: Wed, 3/9
Today, I sat in on a Credible Fear Interview with a client and her 7 year old daughter. The Asylum Office is a trailer right next door to the legal visitation trailer at the Dilley detention center. After a grueling 2 hour interview with the mother, it was time for the Asylum Officer to interview the little girl. It was clear that this little 7 year old understandably didn't know why she and her mother were there.
Over the last couple weeks, I have heard countless stories of women and their children fleeing for their lives due to completely pervasive violence in their home countries. But something happened during that interview that I will never forget.
To try to establish a rapport with the little girl, at first the Asylum Officer asked innocuous questions:
Q: What's your favorite color? // A: Pink!
Q: What is your favorite subject in school? // A: English!
The questions quickly turned to trying to ask the girl the reasons why she and her mother fled El Salvador, and the girl started to shut down. The girl didn't want to continue the interview, so the Asylum Officer asked the mother questions on behalf of the girl. One of the questions was:
"Is your daughter a terrorist?"
In that moment, my eyes began to water as the little girl was sitting on her chair ruffling through pages of what appeared to be a coloring book.
Day 10: Thurs, 3/10
Today we were frantically getting bond documents together for the whopping 11 bond hearings that are tomorrow. It is great news because it will allow 11 women and their children to appear in front of the Immigration Judge and hopefully obtain a bond instead of wearing a grillete (ankle monitor which needs to be on at all times—even when charging).
The grillete is another assault on women fleeing form violence in their home countries. It is just another dehumanizing intimidation tactic when these women have already been through enough.
We were able to put together the bond document packets together for tomorrow, and I went to sleep tonight thinking about the next morning in court. I am sure the families I am representing are thinking about it nonstop, as well.
Day 11: Fri, 3/11
The other volunteer attorneys and I walk into immigration court and find the US attorney commenting about how he has never seen so many bond hearings on the docket before. I cheer internally, because something is happening in the detention center—word is spreading throughout the ladies detained there that securing a bond release without wearing the grillete is possible. And that is a choice the woman gets to make—to try to go for the bond and not being automatically forced to wear the grillete by Immigration Customs and Enforcement (ICE).
One of my clients is a woman who fled Central American with her 4 young children. What a long and brave journey for this young group—and they wanted to reunited with the woman's parents who are living in Maryland.
Luckily, we were able to secure the minimum bond needed for this woman and her 4 children to be reunited with her parents on the East Coast.
And it is a small comfort to know that a week from today, this family will be in Maryland—and this client will NOT be wearing a grillete.
Another thing happened during the hearing that disturbed me (out of many things that do about this place). I was still dealing with my cold and at this point had an annoying cough that would pop up at random. The judge excused me to grab a drink of water.
I scurried into the hallway and saw a large water cooler and about 15 or so used paper cups in the wastebasket. As I was reaching to grab a drink, one of the CCA guards said: "Are you sure you want to drink that? That water is from here, you know."
Before I got to Dilley, I was forewarned that the area was heavily into fracking and therefore the water wasn't guaranteed to be safe.
I peered into the waiting room and saw other detained Central American mothers and their children—the ones who had drank the water out of the cooler.
My heart sank with this knowledge and I walked back into the courtroom to continue fighting another battle at hand.
Final Thoughts on Dilley
I was forewarned by a few good friends who had volunteered at Dilley before and that it would be a difficult experience. I went in unsure of how the experience would go.
I'm not one of those people who usually exhibits my stress in that frenetic OMMGGGGG type of way. In fact, I think most of the time, there is this instinct that kicks in that tells me to deliberately try to take a deep breath and chill out as much as possible. But stress always manifests, and it looks different for each person.
For me, it took its impact on me physically. I was sick by the end of my first week at Dilley, and by the morning after my last day there (Saturday), I felt 100% physically depleted. I think after my 8+ months on the road, nothing compared to how crushing Dilley was.
Every single day I was there, multiple women shared their horror stories of escaping violence in Central America and that they needed to leave to save the lives of themselves and their children.
The very last client I saw on Friday was crying so hard that she was struggling to get her words out.
There is nothing wrong that these women have done. They are simply trying to save their own lives—and the lives of their children.
When will family detention end in the US and give these women and children the dignity they so incredibly deserve?
Now, it's time to work at the Karnes City, Texas detention center for the next 2 months. More to come soon and much love to you all.