This first week of April marks my 10th month on the road doing pro bono lawyering across the United States—it's hard to believe that 1 year mark is just a couple months away!
It's also my fourth week working at the Karnes City family detention center—where women and children who are seeking asylum from Central America are currently detained. Overall, my experience has been a bit of an emotional rollercoaster, but it's where I want and need to be right now.
When Women are Afraid to Share Their Full Stories
Something I've been noticing over the last month and a half or so since I've been working at family detention centers in Texas is that a client's full story may not come out until later in the process.
What I mean by that is that asylees from Central America and Mexico have been essentially living in a failed state in terms of the government and police being able to adequately protect them. Reporting violent crimes to the police can often result in retribution by the police and/or gang, since many times the entities may be working together in varying extents.
Most of women I have worked with since being here have not reported the violence inflicted upon them to the police because of extreme fear. Sharing all of the horrid details could result in something even worse.
Last Friday Was Cutting It down to the Wire
Last week, I found out that I was assigned to an immigration judge review hearing in San Antonio this week. My client had not passed her initial credible fear interview with the asylum officer, and the hearing was to appeal this decision. My client was a woman who lived in one of the northern states of Mexico—where cartel violence is reaching an all-time high.
We had met a couple times so I could submit a declaration and a brief on her behalf—to detail some more of the cartel violence she was experiencing in northern Mexico.
The last time I saw her in person was Friday. We had tried to connect over the telephone to go over the documents for her final approval while I was in San Antonio (which I will never do again because the phone connection was so bad to the detention center).
So, I made the quick decision to make the hour drive down to Karnes City, meet with the client for half an hour to confirm the documents I was going to file, and then file the actual documents by the time the immigration court closed at 4 pm.
I had no idea the next few hours were going to essentially be a non-stop adrenaline rush.
I showed up in the detention center, and my client said that she had something to tell me. The way she said it, I instinctively knew she was going to tell me something important that she did not mention earlier during our meetings.
She took off her jacket and showed me her right upper arm. There was a giant scar. She told me that a member of a local cartel did this to her. She also told me that she had run into this cartel member a number of times and was threatened with death. This was not mentioned anywhere in the proceedings thus far.
She told me she didn't mention any of this information before because she was highly afraid and thought she would be punished for it.
My heart started to race. This was important and needed to be incorporated into the documents, but we only had half an hour before I needed to leave to go back to San Antonio.
"Okay," I said. "And first, I want to apologize because I am honestly going to be in a huge rush and will probably come across as rude over these next 30 minutes. We need to get everything incorporated into this declaration, and do it well and quickly."
She nodded, and for the next 30 minutes, I furiously was trying to edit the declaration and brief to reflect this new and important information.
I printed everything out, she signed the affidavit, and I literally left running out of that hellhole detention center. The time was around 2:55 pm, and the court closed at 4 pm in San Antonio. It takes an hour to get from Point A to Point B.
I hauled ass back up to San Antonio and blew past the parking attendant at the court (sorry about that!). I ran into the court and took the elevator and saw the guard closing up the blinds on the windows. I ran into the clerk's office and it was literally 3:59 pm on my phone.
She took the papers. THANK GOD.
I left the court after the filing, and sat in my car for 5 minutes just staring out into space.
Ye Shall Know the Truth and the Truth Shall Set You Free (or it is supposed to)
I went to the University of Texas at Austin, just an hour and a half north of San Antonio, and the UT Tower has this quote inscribed on the front: "Ye shall know the truth and the truth shall set you free."
The above experience has me thinking a lot about truth and how important it is in asylum proceedings—to be able to convey the entire truth and every single detail of the trauma these women and children have faced. But more specifically, how does the truth get fully uncovered where there is so much understandable trauma, a history of retribution in their home countries for telling the truth, and so many barriers from preventing the truth from being fully exposed out in the sun?
It is something I will continue to marinate on for quite some time, I suspect.
Until next time—sending lots of love from San Antonio/Karnes City, Texas.