I asked Guadalupe* what she meant by that – she had been on medication for anxiety and depression in her home country of Mexico. She was afraid to tell the medical staff when she got to the South Texas Family Detention Center that she took medication, because she thought it would make her look weak or negatively affect her case. Because she wasn’t taking her medication, Guadalupe had not slept for the past four nights. Here we were, on a sunny Wednesday afternoon discussing her upcoming credible fear interview. She looked exhausted and her cheekbones were protruding from her face.
As we talked, her 8 year old daughter colored pictures at the other side of the trailer. I listened as this mother of three girls told me about the gang members that knocked on her door one night. Guadalupe had a blank face as she told me she knew that she would be raped if she let the men drag her into her home, so she pushed past them and felt a level of relief when they tackled her in the street instead of the privacy of her own home. She pulled her t-shirt from her collar to show me the open wounds still red from the attack just days ago. I held her hand as she divulged horrific details of the attack. We took a break so that I could pretend to be an Asylum Officer and ask her the formal questions she should be ready to answer in just a few days’ time. She told me that she had been considering suicide, until meeting someone who actually cared about her case.
Guadalupe spoke eloquently and clearly as we prepared, reliving her trauma as she recounted calling the police and hearing the phone line go dead after she made the call for help. Her voice did not waver as she told about packing up her three daughters and husband, flying to Reynosa, Mexico and walking across the border knowing they would likely be detained, but also knowing she didn’t have a choice if she wanted to her family to be safe. Her emotions showed through only when she expressed concern over the difficulty she is having keeping track of her husband, who was quickly moved between facilities after being separated from his wife and daughters. After our meeting, my client was exhausted. I walked her to the guard who would give her back her ID badge, a photo of her on one side, and a photo with her and her daughter on the other.
Ever so gently, she asked if she could use her ID card containing her commissary money to buy me a soda from a vending machine as a thank you gift for our meeting together and my help with her case. I thanked her for her deeply generous offer, saw her out, and cried as I packed up my office supplies. I had never encountered such humble kindness.
That night, I received a message from a friend in Chicago, a high school English teacher. Her classes were praying for the women I was working with and the volunteers on the ground.
Two days later, I met my client for her interview at 9:45am in the Court Trailer. She had been practicing her answers for the last 36 hours. She still had not slept. It was an honor to take notes as she testified credibly to the Asylum Officer for almost 2 hours, without a break or a sip of water, as her daughter played in a nearby play area. After the interview, we said goodbye, knowing that the next group of attorneys would care for these two women when my week on the ground was over.
After returning to Chicago, I’ve continued to follow the case remotely, to track the clients I had worked with on the ground. After all of that work, she had passed the credible fear interview! She received a bond shortly thereafter, and I was able to contact her family members to inform them that her case was proceeding.
The On the Ground volunteers made a big difference in her case. I encourage any person thinking about volunteering their time to commit to the CARA Family Detention Pro Bono Project as soon as possible.
Your help is needed.
*Name has been changed
Tess Feldman, AILA Member and CARA Family Detention Pro Bono Project Volunteer
If you are an AILA member who wants to volunteer at a family detention center, please go to the CARA Family Detention Pro Bono Project page or feel free to contact Maheen Taqui at firstname.lastname@example.org – we could really use your help.
To watch videos of the volunteers 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.