Dispatches from “Baby Jail” in South Texas

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It was 7:30am on a January morning in south Texas, a few days before the U.S. presidential inauguration. The lawyers and translators filed through security screening into the refugee detention center. But as they entered the trailer where they would spend the next ten or twelve hours assisting women asylum seekers and their children, they stopped short. The trailer was different than the day before: the furniture had been totally rearranged. Near the waiting area, there was usually a circle of chairs for the “intake charla,” or briefing, in which new arrivals, still dazed from weeks or months of travel, often wrangling small children on their laps, listened while a volunteer explained the U.S. asylum process. In the back was another cluster of chairs where, several days later, women would receive more detailed instructions about the interview they would face with an asylum officer. In still another circle, those who had passed the interview and received authorization for release were apprised of details about ankle shackles and bond payments. Five and sometimes six days a week, a dozen or so lawyers and legal assistants provided these services to hundreds of women as part of the CARA Family Detention Pro Bono Project, an initiative organized by the Catholic Legal Immigration Network, the American Immigration Council, the Refugee and Immigrant Center for Education and Legal Services, and the American Immigration Lawyers Association. They had developed a fine-tuned procedure over the previous two years, and the furniture was the physical manifestation of that procedure. Now inexplicably the trailer had been totally rearranged.

Did the furniture herald the beginning of the end? In the weeks prior to the inauguration, CARA staff had been on edge, uncertain what would happen after January 20. U.S. laws governing asylum seekers’ rights to counsel are complex and inconsistently applied. While Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) cannot legally block detainees from receiving counsel, they can—and do—obstruct lawyers’ access to them. Was this ICE’s not-so-subtle way of informing CARA it would no longer be permitted to work in the center?

 

Read the entire article at https://nacla.org/news/2017/06/28/dispatches-%E2%80%9Cbaby-jail%E2%80%9D-south-texas