Wednesday, September 2, 2015

"Tears flowed everywhere": A Week Volunteering at a Texas Immigration Detention Center

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From July 25-July 31, our BIA Fully Accredited Representative, Jenny Cachaya, served as a legal volunteer at the immigration detention center for women and children in Dilley, TX. She joined a team of dedicated volunteers from different parts of the country hosted and trained by CARA (CLINIC, American Immigration Council, RAICES and AILA) Family Detention Pro Bono Project, which provides free legal services to the detained women and children. She wrote a special post about her experiences: 

Volunteers at the South Texas Family Residential Center
Throughout the week, I had the opportunity to work with many women on their individual cases. The work ranged from providing short legal orientations and trying to explain in simple terms the complexity of the long immigration process ahead to preparing and representing them during their credible/reasonable fear interviews.  There were a lot of barriers to break through. For instance, the resident women, all of whom are detained with a least one child, have to tend to the needs of their children first and foremost. A lot of the children observed at the detention center were dealing with some sort of cold-related illness.

Because of the brutal Texas heat, the temperature in each of the rooms is kept low and this causes the children and women to get sick since their bodies are not used to air conditioning.  A lot of the women worried their children were not eating because they are not used to the food there and some were throwing up. Not to mention the psychological burden caused by being deprived from freedom, something they never thought they could lose after having lost so much in their native countries.The women’s stories were tragic. As much as the volunteers try not to re-traumatize them, tears flowed everywhere.

There were not enough hours in the day to complete the work that needed to be done. And as much as myself and fellow volunteers worked efficiently so we could attend to the next group of women needing assistance, I focused especially on helping indigenous, non-Spanish speaking women, who, in my opinion, is the second most vulnerable group of residents after the children.

On my last day working at the detention center, I met “Ana” who wanted to find out what was happening with her immigration case. Ana had been detained for over one month and, like many others, felt lost in the process. I spoke in broken Spanish and I quickly realized that Ana’s native dialect was Mam. Ana said she understood basic Spanish, but she preferred to communicate in Mam. Speaking slowly in Spanish, I tried to get some information from Ana to see how I could help. Ana shared with me that the asylum officer who interviewed her had found her not credible and she attributed that negative outcome to the fact that her interview was conducted in Spanish and not Mam as she had requested. Ana was frustrated because she knew that she had left out a lot of the important details of her story because she could not keep up with the Spanish-speaking interpreter who was interpreting over the telephone. Now, she was facing a bigger hurdle because she had to tell her story in front of an immigration judge who would determine if Ana could remain in the U.S. and continue pursuing her asylum case.  Fortunately, Ana did not have to go through that process alone because the team of CARA volunteers will be there each step of the way. I explained to Ana that she had the right to be provided with a Mam interpreter during immigration proceedings. Ana felt ashamed for not being able to communicate fluently in Spanish, but she was reminded that being of indigenous descent is something she should be proud of.

I am very grateful to Catholic Charities for allowing me the opportunity to travel to Dilley and support this very important work. Not only did this experience help me grow as a professional, but as a person as well.

Although tremendous efforts are being made to end family detention, CARA continues recruiting volunteers. For more information on how you can help, please visit: