Jonny and I had the good fortune of both having the week of March 27-31 off from school and work, respectively. Although we had originally talked about taking this week as a honeymoon of sorts, we ultimately decided to spend our week in Dilley, Texas, volunteering with the CARA Pro Bono Project. The CARA Pro Bono Project is a collaboration between Catholic Legal Immigration Network, American Immigration Council, the Refugee and Immigrant Center for Education, and the American Immigration Lawyers Association. The collective formed after President Obama authorized ICE to expand capacity for family detention centers across the United States.
The facility in Dilley houses primarily asylum-seeking women & children from Guatemala, El Salvador, and Honduras. These women are fleeing domestic violence, rape, death threats, and gang coercion and extortion. Anyone can volunteer with the organization as a legal assistant, and as I was the only non-law student on the trip, I had no idea what to expect. We arrived in Dilley on Sunday night and attended a four hour training session with the project coordinator and lead attorney on staff. Our primary job as volunteers would be to assist women in preparing their credible fear interviews. We showed up at the visitation trailer each day and waited for our clients to meet with us as we were not allowed past the lobby unless we had a client meeting scheduled. After our clients checked in with the ICE agent and CCA guard, we went through intense security measures: metal detector and x-ray scanner, no phones, cameras or other recording devices allowed, no backpacks unless they were see-through, no more than $20 cash allowed, among other restrictions that were enforced to varying degrees of severity depending on the guard on duty. When we were not meeting with clients, we were volunteering at a ranch off-site, scanning documentation into a database that allows CARA to connect the women to immigration attorneys around the country.
As the week went on, the guards and ICE agents became increasingly frustrating to deal with — they seemed annoyed and frustrated at our presence. This baffled me. The women and children, fully entitled to seek asylum according to the UDHR, went to extreme measures to escape dangerous situations, yet they are treated like criminals. I spent a lot of time thinking about how many of my students that I taught in Southeast Nashville came from similar circumstances, and how many of my students suffered trauma that has not been reckoned with.
I am wary of short-term service projects because it seems like the amount of time and energy spent training volunteers could be better spent, but CARA is actively seeking help, especially from Spanish speakers. If you cannot support with your time, do consider donating to the project or contacting your representatives about ending family detention.