My recent trip to Dilley, Texas, was a joy, a pleasure, a treat. Not exactly what you would expect me to say in this piece, but in comparison to the hellhole that was Artesia, Dilley was refreshing. Maybe because of the great staff, the routine, the fact that there was not a major crisis the week I was in Dilley – no one got deported, no attorney was banned, and the volunteers were allowed to work their tails off unhindered by the guards. So, it was a pleasant and refreshing surprise.
But, since I have been back to the humdrum of daily law practice in Kansas City, I have constantly felt a drag on my heart. As I read the hundreds of e-mails from the Dilley volunteers on the ground, I just want to pack my bag to head back down. Hell – it’s not really unpacked yet. I check on each of my “clients” from the week – to see who has been released, who is still waiting, who has a negative decision. I dream about them, worry about them, and pray for them.
The week of September 14th, we took nine people from Missouri to Dilley from our chapter, and the following week, another eight people from the Kansas side of our chapter made the trek. Our MO/KS chapter generously supported the volunteer efforts by paying for the hotel rooms – a contribution that helped enormously in volunteer recruitment. Every single volunteer had a positive experience, and it was a great way to get to know colleagues better and build friendships. It has been a thrill watching our members get active – speaking at events, writing pieces about their time there, and making plans to return. Every gift of time and energy that was given in Dilley was rewarded ten-fold.
I returned back home to my general immigration law practice at the end of the tiring week in Dilley, and my first obligation on Monday morning was better than even a Dilley Bar. I am a bit of a Kansas City Royals baseball fan, and I had the opportunity to help out a Florida immigration attorney by accompanying her clients, two Royals baseball players, to the immigration office for travel documents. What a treat – to sit for two hours with these guys – hopefully, soon to be headed to the World Series! Representing professional athletes is not part of my normal practice (damn!). I am much more comfortable working with the women and children in Dilley – so what did we talk about? Dilley, of course! The atrocities witnessed. The need to shut down the detention facility. The need to get voters to call their congressional offices and to vote. I find that during every-day, or even extraordinary, interactions my mind returns to Dilley and anyone near ends up with an earful.
Watching my team during this post-season baseball craziness in Kansas City, it strikes me that a huge percentage of our team, and many Major League Baseball teams, are made up of immigrants. The same fans who oppose immigrants down on the border are not at all opposed to receiving the contributions of immigrant athletes. When I looked at the pictures the baseball players showed me of their children, I could just as easily have been looking at pictures of children from Dilley. Who knows what talents we are incarcerating, mistreating, tossing aside, or deporting?
The need is great for our members, friends and neighbors to take the trek down to South Texas and spend a little time. No need to hesitate – it will be a great learning experience – pick up a little Spanish, learn the basics of asylum law. The support is there to make it possible and, maybe, just maybe, you will be scoring a homerun by slowing this deportation mill down, saving a family or two, and lending your talent to shutting down this inhumane system of family detention.
Written by Angela Ferguson, AILA MO-KS Chapter Chair and CARA Family Detention Pro Bono Project Volunteer
If you are an AILA member, law student, 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.
If you would like to donate funds please see the American Immigration Council’s page dedicated to the fundraising effort.
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.