By Farhad Sethna, Attorney © 2015
This article is dedicated – with gratitude – to volunteers at all the immigration jails in the United States.
When I volunteered to provide pro bono (free of charge) legal services for one week, to immigrant mothers and their children imprisoned at the Dilley, Texas USICE facility, I had no idea what I would truly encounter.
Sure, I had heard of the sleepless nights, the long days, the scared and confused clients, and the ruthless, machine-like process in which human beings were “processed” and sent back to their home countries. But nothing I had heard prepared me for what I saw.
Every morning, the legal team assembled in the “visitation” trailer. Since there were very few visitors for any of the imprisoned women, we usually had the trailer available to intake clients and evaluate them. Getting to the trailer was itself a fight. For several months, the DHS would not even grant us access to the facility. When they did, we had to bring in all our materials and supplies every morning and take everything out every night. Last week, DHS finally gave us an office where we could store our supplies and our printer. Every morning, the center filled quickly with detained women and children who were anxious to see us to evaluate their cases. We first did an intake, to determine what, if any claim they might have to remain in the USA.
That’s where I got my first eye opener: most- at least 80 to 90 percent of these women- had tangible claims of credible fear of returning to their home countries. Some claimed targeted gang violence against them or their families. Others had endured extreme and prolonged domestic violence by their male partners. Yet other mothers had children with signs of severe abuse. I came to Dilley fully expecting to see lots of claims which simply did not meet the standards for asylum or refugee law. I left Dilley totally converted: these were no made up claims- these were honest stories of awful abuse and persecution worthy of full presentation to an immigration court.
I also conducted several bond hearings by televideo with a very hard-working and incisive Immigration Judge in Miami, Florida. I am happy to say that most of my bond hearings were successful in that the judge either granted the lowest possible bond ($1,500), in most cases, and in one case, no bond at all. That’s where I had my second eye-opener: despite my prior experiences, I do believe this particular judge gave a full and fair hearing to all of my clients on their bond applications.
My third eye-opener was sitting through an execution. That’s the best way to term it. One unfortunate client had failed to convince the asylum officer of her credible fear of returning to her home country. That denial is automatically referred to an immigration judge for review. In the space of 20 minutes, an immigration judge asked my client a few questions, eliciting a very brief summary of my client’s case. My client sat there sobbing through all of the questions. At the conclusion, the judge announced that he was going to affirm the decision of the asylum officer and my client would be removed back to her country. My client burst into tears screaming “If I go back, I will be killed! If I go back, I will be killed”. I know that her words will ring in my ears for a very long time.
Our legal team immediately filed a motion to reconsider this decision with the USCIS Asylum Office, and as of the time of this writing, we are still waiting for a decision.
The USICE would like to call the Dilley prison a “Family Residential Center”. However, families are not intact here. I personally witnessed families that had been split apart. The process needs to be streamlined. The government’s extreme insistence on the detainee to have a sponsor before she can be bonded out is contrary to the rule of asylum law. That the sponsor also be a US citizen or Permanent Resident is again contrary to asylum law. The simple lack of a sponsor who is a US citizen or Permanent Resident or lacks the ability to pay the bond is keeping many women and children in the facility.
This short-sighted policy costs the government over $300 per day per person. As an example, we – the taxpayers – are paying almost $ 1,000 per day to imprison a harmless family of three – a mother and two children. This prolonged wait for documentation which oftentimes is impossible to obtain is a harsh and unnecessary policy which has to stop. These women and children have been traumatized enough. We have to stop treating them like criminals. The DHS needs to respect that they are victims and not traumatize them all over again.
Are you moved? Want to take action? Contact your congressman or senator. If you have language, counseling or legal skills, spend a week in Dilley, Texas, Karnes, Texas or Florence, Arizona. I promise you will leave feeling more human than you ever have. Contact me if you want to volunteer and I’ll put you in touch with the right people.
About the author: Attorney Farhad Sethna has practiced law for over 20 years. Since 1996, he has been an adjunct professor of Immigration Law at the University of Akron, School of Law, in Akron, Ohio. He is a frequent speaker at Continuing Legal Education and professional development seminars on various immigration-related topics. His practice is limited to immigration and small business. With offices in Cuyahoga Falls, Akron and Dover, Ohio, Attorney Sethna represents clients in all types of immigration cases. Our number is: (330)-384-8000. Please send your general immigration questions to AttorneySethna@immigration-america.com. We will try to answer as many questions as possible.
This is only general legal information. Please consult a qualified immigration attorney for advice on your specific case.