In June 2017, mother and daughter Judy and Jasmine Elliot travelled to San Antonio to volunteer with the Refugee and Immigration Center for Education and Legal Services (RAICES) through the UU College of Social Justice. Hear about their experiences below. If you, or someone you know, are interested in volunteering and are either fluent in Spanish or have legal expertise, learn more and sign up at https://uucsj.org/raices/
Jasmine and I were volunteering at Karnes Detention Center with RAICES to help prepare the women for their Credible Fear Interview, and inform them of their rights and obligations in the asylum process should they pass it. But I feel we also helped in other significant ways.
The women, hugely traumatized by the violent experiences they were fleeing and the many dangers they encountered traveling to the US border, often said they’d not spoken of it much before, if ever. Able to finally do so in a private room with a sympathetic US citizen, as we prepared them for the CFI, seemed a comfort to many. They also expressed gratitude for our support and caring, both at Karnes and at the Greyhound bus station, of them and their children.
We volunteers returned with resolve to continue related work in our communities, such as offering support to families seeking asylum, taking rapid-response training to respond to ICE raids, and speaking up about what we learned at Karnes. If you have law or Spanish skills, contact UUCSJ and spend as few as four days in the San Antonio area doing meaningful work that can help families in desperate need have a decent future.
It took much support to make this week happen, from locals in the UU church and RAICES to UUCSJ staff and people who donated backpacks and contents for Greyhound bus travelers.There are so many ways to be involved.
Lastly, each of the women at Karnes had at least one of her children with her. I told some of them at the Greyhound station they were my heroes (to a very tearful response), for surviving and enduring all that they had to give their children a chance. I imagine some of these children will, like so many Latinos before them, become activists for social justice based on the injustice they witnessed in their formative years.
I’m a 22-year-old college student who just returned from volunteering at the Karnes detention center in Texas. Hearing horrific stories from women from Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador fleeing extreme domestic violence and death threats from gangs was very hard. But being able to work with a team of lawyers to help prepare the women for their Credible Fear Interview was amazing.
It’s difficult to pass the interview, but 90% of the women prepped through RAICES do. The best part for me was going to the Greyhound bus station the last day to hand out RAICES backpacks full of supplies and food, and seeing some of the families I had worked with. They seemed so much happier and hopeful, on to the next step of seeking asylum.
I had never imagined myself doing this type of work, but I’m so glad I did. It made me so much more grateful for the life I have, and showed me I could use my Spanish to make an important difference for families in desperate need.