I attended the first Know-Your-Rights (KYR) presentation as a volunteer lawyer at the Karnes Detention Center on Friday. The KYR was offered by American Gateways in Austin. The organization has stepped up to offer weekly presentations, but does not have funding to do more. Just like Artesia, there is an astounding lack of due process and an emergency need for volunteers.
The facility reminds me of the T. Don Hutto center post-litigation. The Hutto with murals on the wall and new mulch on the plant beds outside. But they’re not fooling the prisoners. It’s still jail.
The presentation was offered in the lunch room with all the kids present. Needless to say, it was quite loud and chaotic. Because the facility has only been housing women and children for less than two weeks, everyone is in the very early stages of the asylum process. Of the over 100 women at the presentation, only five had passed their Credible Fear Interviews (CFIs) and many had failed, even those with clear eligibility for asylum. I heard several reports of asylum officers interrupting applicants. One said her asylum officer told her she “doesn’t get to just say what she wants to say.” No one had seen an immigration judge or been issued a bond.
During our one-on-one consults, the women reported being held in the infamous hieleras (freezers) used by Customs and Border Protection (CBP) for up to a week, and sheer relief to be in a place that was warm with access to edible food. And yet, the kids were all sick and coughing, either from the hieleras or confinement at Karnes. Most moms wanted to have their kids released to family members in the U.S. rather than be subject to the expedited removal process with mom. I can’t imagine that awful choice, our modern day Sophie’s Choice, where a mother would rather lose her children to possible safety than keep them close but subject to danger. They don’t even get that choice though, because even though children are not supposed to be placed in expedited removal, that’s exactly what’s happening.
There is major need right now for representation in the CFIs and the appeals of CFI denials. American Gateways needs funding to continue their work. And we need to be loud and outspoken against family detention. It is absolutely barbaric to detain children.
Written by Kate Lincoln-Goldfinch, AILA Member and volunteer at Karnes