As the clock ticked toward mid-June, ICE quietly hinted that the agency would be reviewing the long-term custody status of detained families at Dilley and Karnes, although ICE would not share the criteria that they intended to apply in the review process. Yet in recent conversations with E-, she reported that officials at Karnes were telling the women that they were not going to win their appeals to the BIA and that they would be deported. Understandably, this kind of news was beyond unsettling for E- and her fellow detainees.
On Wednesday, June 10th, I left urgent voice and email messages with ERO deportation officers at Karnes to inquire about a custody review for E- and her children. The following morning E-‘s deportation officer returned my call with the news that ICE had indeed reviewed her custody status the previous day and was prepared to release her on condition that she post a $7,500 cash bond and that she wear an electronic ankle bracelet. While $7,500 sounded high, and is in fact an unreachable sum for E- and her family, it was the first promising news for her freedom in almost 11 months.
We spent most of the day on Thursday trying to reach potential obligors who might be willing to assist, but to no avail. Young support staff at my firm suggested that we could raise the money ourselves through a crowd-funding site. We explored this, learning that the site we focused on (GoFundMe) does not make funds available for withdrawal for 5 to 7 business days. Too long. So, on Friday afternoon, we contacted RAICES to see if they might have any ideas. Lo and behold, RAICES offered to front the bond money and told us that we could repay them from our GoFundMe account – and, that they would do what they could to secure E-s release before the end of the day. Sure enough, about two hours later we received confirmation that the bond had been posted. Things were moving quickly and in a positive direction.
Meanwhile, I received a faxed copy of E-‘s Order of Supervision from the deportation officer at Karnes. Incredibly, the paperwork was made out in the name that a terrified E- had blurted out when she was initially arrested by the Border Patrol back in 2007 – the name of her deceased sister-in-law, BJ-E. I then contacted the D.O. to ask if he could please amend the Order of Supervision to show E-‘s correct name. Puzzling, he indicated that all ICE records were under the name BJ-E and that he couldn’t do anything about that. When I explained that other government records (i.e., E-‘s deportation proceedings, the file maintained by the ICE trial attorneys, even the detainee records at Artesia and Karnes, including E-‘s ID badge) were kept under her correct name, the D.O. was unpersuaded. I pleaded: But how do you expect her to navigate the world outside detention if her government paperwork shows the wrong name? An exasperated D.O. finally agreed to re-issue the Order of Supervision in E-‘s proper name, but insisted on using “aka: BJ-E,” adding, “Look, this is the name that we have for her. Maybe she was scared or maybe she was lying. Either way, I don’t know why you’re being so argumentative, but I guess it’s just your profession.” Jeez! More than ever, I couldn’t help wondering what it must be like for these detained families to live under the yoke of jailers and government officials who simply don’t (or won’t) exercise the slightest modicum of empathy for what these women have endured.
After an urgent call to Karnes, we waited for E-‘s return call. Finally, around 5:45 (EDT) on Friday evening she called. She explained that something was going on, that officials at Karnes had abruptly told her to pack all her things “ahorita,” and that she and her children were then taken to a processing room, but nobody was telling her anything. Clearly, she was nervous. I couldn’t help wondering if she might be thinking that her appeal had been denied and that this was the end of the road, that she was being deported. I told her that the bond had just been posted and that our friends from RAICES were going to meet her at the bus station in San Antonio that very evening, and that they would take her to a church house where she and the kids would be safe until we could get the plane tickets that would bring them to her husband / their father. E- broke into sobs of relief and was having a tough time controlling her emotions. “Thank you! Thank everyone who helped us! We can never thank everybody enough, we can never find the words … .” She handed the phone to her 10-year old daughter, who was also overcome with emotion. A few more quick words with E- and then the phone went dead.
Two days later, on Sunday afternoon, I spoke with E- on the phone. She was at the church house and reported that she and the children were sleeping well and eating well and that their hosts were very kind. In fewer than 48 hours following release from family detention she sounded like a different person. Three days later she and the kids flew to the Washington DC area, somewhat refreshed and reunited with their husband / father – the first time that E-‘s 4-year old son met his dad. It was a special moment for this family.
This is a triumph shared by the incredible fire brigade of over 50 volunteers who worked on E-‘s case and by their many brother and sister volunteers who embody the pro bono spirit to end family detention. While there’s still much work to do – most importantly the need to prevail on E-‘s appeal – a heartfelt “thank you” goes out to everyone who helped to bring about E-‘s release.
Written by Frank Johnson, AILA Member and Volunteer
If you are an AILA member, paralegal, or translator, 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.