The last couple months in Texas
Last night, I was speaking in front of a group of Sisters at Our Lady of the Lake here in San Antonio—where I've been staying the last month and half while working at the family detention centers down south. I was presenting to them a summary of my work over the last couple months working here in Texas.
We talked about a lot of things. I told them stories of bitter defeat working in the immigration system here in the United States, stories of victory which I try to hold on to and focus on, and everything else in between.
Actually, one of the Sisters grew up in my hometown of Lowell, Massachusetts and also spent time working on different reservations in the US, too. (She came up to me afterwards and said we should grab a margarita—I look forward to it!).
My closing thought for the evening was the following, however: I don't want to be a cog in the wheel for a dysfunctional justice system.
The inevitably sinking boat
One of the metaphors I use most commonly to describe the failing immigration (and detention) situation here in the United States is that of a boat sinking because of a number of holes. Being a volunteer attorney at these detention centers is providing a much needed triage for asylum seekers from Central America and Mexico.
But these once "temporary" detention centers that were in response to the influx of migrants over the summer of 2014 have become a more permanent mainstay in our country's for-profit prison system.
In fact—the Dilley and Karnes detention centers are very close to obtaining a child care license (WHAT THE HELL) which is worrisome because children by law would be able to stay at these detention centers for an even LONGER period of time.
I'm no cog in the wheel
My friend in Dilley once remarked that she didn't want to be seen as just a legal services provider. The bigger fight, and what always has been, is ending family detention—and therefore ending immigration detention in this country.
When these family detention centers sprouted up in summer 2014, there was arguably more of a public awareness and backlash to having these facilities opened.
But, now it's 2 years later. Things have become scarily and depressingly more systematized—and some of us lawyers wonder if we are now trying to work within this dysfunctional system to achieve justice for clients—versus trying to more aggressively topple the detention system complex as a whole. Isn't that what we all really want, for this inhumane practice of detention to simply end?
We aren't here to acquiesce with what is being pushed on as the new "normal" for migrants fleeing for their lives. We are not cogs in the wheel.
Remember the story of the woman last week who had the inconsolable toddler in the legal meeting room? A recap: last week, I had met with an asylum seeker and her toddler daughter. There was a previous policy that stated that children had to be with their mothers at all times—even during legal appointments—which resulted in a several hour meeting I had with this client and her highly upset (understandably!) child with nowhere to go.
Well—by working together and organizing different stories of how this was not serving the clients and hindering justice—the policy has been rescinded! I give big props to the team on the ground who met with officials at the detention center and consistently told them about how this practice was interfering with our ability to provide effective legal representation.
In fact—I saw the woman I helped in a release group earlier this week—meaning that she was going to be leaving the Karnes City detention center. I feel so much relief that she was able to get adequate representation and get the eff out of there.
It's absolutely another victory to be filed with the other victories, there is no doubt about that.
But what I am wondering about is this: how do we work on a much bigger strategy and awareness to END family detention—instead of chipping away one case at a time? In the meantime, we try to do both.