My three Case Western Reserve University School of Law students and I are part of an Ohio and New York volunteer legal team at Dilley, Texas (see photo). I had been to Artesia, and volunteered there, but while there are similarities between the two facilities, there are also differences. The biggest difference is that Dilley (the South Texas Family Residential Center) is being run by Corrections Corporation of America (CCA).
As the contractor, CCA runs the facility pursuant to Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s (ICE) directives. The last thing that CCA wants to do is infuriate the golden hand that feeds them. Once the permanent facility is up and running, it can hold over 2,000 detainees. At the going government rate to house and shelter a detainee, approximately $296/day, for 2,000 detainees, CCA will earn almost $500,000 per day once the facility is full. Per. Day.
CCA is a very effective buffer between our volunteer group and ICE. The majority of our interactions are with CCA. To get to speak with an ICE officer to negotiate bond or discuss release or parole requires determination, email addresses, and finesse — and ICE officers to visit us, as we are not permitted to visit them.
This is the first week that volunteers are permitted to use laptops inside the temporary facility (the permanent side is opening next week, on March 17). To use our computers, we have a wireless hot spot to help facilitate use of the internet – a requirement for the law office that we essentially bring into the facility every morning, and tear down every night. To get the best (only) signal, the wifi hot spot must be by a window and the short hotspot cord doesn’t reach from the outlet to the window. So, I brought a surge protector (see photo). Obtaining access to laptops took time – and the benefit of laptops and wireless hotspots made quite a difference. The hotspots were assumed (by me) to be part and parcel of the laptop package (well, I assumed they were included and didn’t ask too many questions about it).
The second morning, we appeared at the facility bright and early at 8:00a, ready to start our day. We unloaded our law books, files, laptops, and some munchies — a loaf of bread and peanut butter. The strawberry jelly (my favorite), sadly, was rejected by security because it was in a glass container. An aluminum container of wasabi peas didn’t get clearance either and went back to the car to be returned to the hotel for future snacks. The children’s stickers, silly putty, and barrettes — all rejected because “we provide everything that the residents need”. (“Everything but legal representation” ran through my head, but I held my tongue). In my bag, I brought back the same surge protector that we used Monday to power the hotspot.
The guard at the desk would not permit me to enter the facility with the surge protector. I insisted. She refused. Many of the ICE higher ups were passing through security at the same time; I don’t know if this influenced the intensity of the search. All I know is that I stood and waited… for fifty minutes… and finally received clearance after the AFOD (Assistant Field Office Director, the one in charge of the facility) was passing through security and provided oral consent to bring the surge protector into the facility. But that wasn’t the end of it.
There are requirements within the facility of having escorts and we know that we cannot go <anywhere> unescorted. Little did I know that my surge protector was so dangerous to the facility – or perhaps, to the relationship between CCA and ICE – that it required its own babysitter. So, some poor soul from CCA was detailed all day only to sit and make sure that my surge protector was safe. Once that first poor soul’s shift was over, a second soul had to watch over it, and escort it out with me at the end of the day. My whole team had to wait another fifteen minutes for a CCA supervisor to come to the front desk to sign out the surge protector.
I would like to think that a revolution begins with a spark, not a surge protector. But we have to start somewhere. These barricades are high but we are not dissuaded. We will continue the fight to help these kids and moms have a meaningful chance to be released under reasonable bond, and request asylum. Together, one volunteer dream team at a time, we will #EndFamilyDetention.
My dream team consists of:
- Michelle Mendez (who helped transition into this week)
- Sister Marlene Perrotte (interpreter)
- Father Rob Reidy (Padre, interpreter)
- Carmen Rivera (interpreter)
- Lauren Deutsch (attorney from New York)
- Brian “The Hoff” Hoffman (attorney from Ohio – and Artesia bulldog)
- Svetlana Schreiber (attorney from Ohio)
- Madeline Jack (student CWRU School of Law, Cleveland OH)
- Harrison Blythe (student CWRU School of Law, Cleveland OH)
- JoAnna Gavigan (student CWRU School of Law, Cleveland OH)
Written by Jennifer Peyton, AILA Member and Dilley Team Lead
To read more about her time in Dilley, see Immigrationpeyton.blogspot.com.
If you are an AILA member who wants to volunteer at a family detention center, please go to AILA’s Dilley Pro Bono Project page or feel free to contact Maheen Taqui at email@example.com – we could really use your help.
To watch videos of the volunteers at Artesia and elsewhere sharing their experiences, go to this playlist on AILA National’s YouTube page. To see all the blog posts about this issue select Family Detention as the category on the right side of this page.