Insights from our RAICES Interns

Insights from our RAICES Interns

This summer, two of our Global Justice Interns are working with RAICES. In the past few weeks, RAICES has been in the national spotlight for the work they have been doing to help reunite separated families. Thanks to a viral Facebook fundraiser, they have raised more than $20 million dollars to continue fighting for immigration justice. We reached out to our interns to see how they are feeling about working with such an important organization at such a critical time. Here is what they had to say:

“The opportunity to work for RAICES when they are essentially on the front line of many immigration issues has been an extremely humbling experience. On a daily basis we interact with moms fighting for their children’s right to a better future. I feel blessed to be able to help these families in any way possible. The work we do is hard, but it is essential. Immigrant rights are human rights and we must always fight for humanity. La lucha siegue!” – Diana

“As someone who is already passionate about immigration rights and the immigration movement; I was blown away when I arrived at RAICES. The attorneys, legal assistants, and others are equally as passionate. They commit to long hours, and work through nights if something needs to get done. It’s amazing to see a group of people equally committed to making a difference. It just fueled me to run with what I love – the immigration movement. When I arrived at Karnes Detention Center, I was nervous. However, I was greeted by women and children who are grateful for our work. It’s difficult to listen to their stories, however these women symbolize the every parent. Every parent would do anything to give their child love, security, and a future. It’s incredible to see these women and their resilience. The children are also so kind and joyful, despite it feeling like the world is against them. Like Diana said, the work we do is hard, but it needs to be done. Immigration is about family and it always will be, and I am grateful to be in the front lines of this movement. Let’s fight the good fight!” – Jamie

 

Diana (center) poses with two other RAICES interns at the San Antonio Families Belong Together Rally on June 30.

UUCSJ By The Numbers

UUCSJ By The Numbers

The UU College of Social Justice was jointly founded in the summer of 2012 by the UUA and UUSC, so this year we are celebrating a big anniversary. We are grateful for all of our alumni and supporters who have made our work possible!

In honor of of all of you and our anniversary, here is CSJ by the numbers (as of October 2017).

 

 

UUCSJ has been inspiring and sustaining faith based action for social justice for 5 years!

 

During our 5 years, we have run 39 immersion journeys for adults, with a total of 470 participants (78 of whom were ministers, DREs or seminary students).

 

Through 18 week-long youth focused immersion learning journeys and training programs as well as three one-day offerings during General Assembly, 392 youth have experienced how Unitarian Universalism can inform their work for justice.

 

We have placed 65 interns in summer-long immersion internships in over 15 different grassroots justice organizations.

 

We have sent 53 skilled volunteers to placements with partner organizations for between one to 8 weeks. Most of those placements were lawyers and Spanish speakers working with RAICES in San Antonio Texas to help the women and children detained in Karnes.

 

Total participants across our programs totals 1,063. This number does not include collaborative training programs like the UU-UNO Spring Seminar and the Goldmine Youth Leadership program which extend our reach even further!

 

Of the participants who have completed an impact assessment form, 88% said that, as a result of their journey, they have a deeper sense of the connection between their faith and the role it can play in social justice.

 

Participants – both those who came as individuals and those traveling in a congregational delegation – came from 260 congregations representing nearly every state in the country.

There Has To Be A Better Way

There Has To Be A Better Way

In June 2017, Nancy Jacobsen volunteered 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/


In early June, I learned first hand about one of the very harsh sides of our immigration process. I was part of a group of five volunteers who went to Karnes County Residential Center in Texas.

We were organized by the Unitarian Universalist College of Social Justice. They solicit Spanish-speaking volunteers to do support work with the detainees through a partnership with RAICES, a non-profit that offers pro bono legal assistance.

The detainees in Karnes are women and children from Central America who have crossed, usually fled, into the US without a visa. The only viable method they have to stay in this country is through the asylum process.

Part of our work was to hear their stories and help prepare them for their “Credible Fear Interview.” A positive outcome is necessary for them to be released, often with an ankle bracelet, and to pass to the next phase where they will have a court hearing with an asylum judge.

Most of the women cried, some uncontrollably, during the preparation when they told any one of us their very painful stories. The most common reasons they fled were:

  1. gang violence which inevitably involves taking life or threatening to and
  2. domestic abuse. (My explanation to myself is that poverty and gangs seems to go hand in hand with men needing to take control of some aspect of their life and often that is “their” woman.)

These women must convince the asylum official and later the judge that their fear was credible, that the police wouldn’t help them, and there was nowhere else for them to go in their country. If they are not able to articulate this, they will be deported to the horrors they escaped.

Also heartbreaking were the stories of women who came without a realistic asylum case. There had not been a specific danger in their lives except their inability to feed their children and themselves. They took what little they had and made a dangerous and rough journey to the US with a dream that, they would soon find out, there was no hope of achieving.  For that they are imprisoned and deported.

There has to be a better way.

 

A Mother and Daughter Helping Families at the Border

A Mother and Daughter Helping Families at the Border

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/


Judy

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.


Jasmine

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.

Volunteering at Karnes Detention Center

Volunteering at Karnes Detention Center

Sandra Rumbler is from the Unitarian Universalist Fellowship of San Luis Obispo in California and in June, 2017 volunteered with RAICES in San Antonio Texas through the UU College of Social Justice.

If you speak Spanish or have legal expertise and would like to volunteer with RAICES through UUCSJ this Fall, go to uucsj.org/raices to learn more and to sign up!


Before volunteering with RAICES at the Karnes Detention Center in Texas, I would have been happy if I had helped just one person gain asylum in the United States. By the end of the week,  however, I believe I helped many, many women take a successful first step in the asylum process.

Karnes Detention CenterKarnes is a detention center for women and children fleeing violence in their home countries, mostly in Central America.  Currently, approximately 680 women and their young children are housed there. They are fleeing violence and possibly death at the hands of gangs, cartels or their own spouses, perhaps a combination of all three. Many of the women sought help from the police, but the police reported them to the gangs, which then tried to retaliate.  Fleeing to other parts of their home countries was not feasible, as the gangs could chase them down.

Because I am bilingual in Spanish, I was able to help the women prepare for their Credible Fear Interviews with the Office of Asylum, which they must pass before they are released from Karnes.  Their chances of success in the interview are greatly increased if they have some preparation, which we gave them one-on-one in private.  In fact, approximately 90% of the women who are prepared by RAICES volunteers are successful in their interviews.

But this is only the first step.  Later, the women will need to plead their cases in court.  Approximately 43% of asylum seekers are finally successful.  The rest, unfortunately, are deported back to their home countries and fearful futures.

I learned about RAICES at my church, the Unitarian Universalist Fellowship of San Luis Obispo in California, while the First Unitarian Universalist Church of San Antonio provided support in Texas, finding us home stays and hosting a reception dinner.

RAICES worked very hard with all five of us UU volunteers from across the county, teaching us about the asylum process, the law and the brutal facts of life in Central America. RAICES lawyers and legal assistants accompanied us each day to Karnes.

When I think back on my week at Karnes, the most touching moment for me was when a three year old tried to wipe away her mother’s tears as the mother related her heart-wrenching story.

I can honestly say that working with RAICES and the refugees was one of the most rewarding experiences of my life and I hope I truly made a difference in many lives, although it’s much too early to see the final outcomes. The experience increased my resolve to further work for justice for immigrants and asylum seekers, whether with RAICES or other groups. But  RAICES and its hard-working staff is at the top of that list.

~Sandra Rumbler

Volunteering In A Family Detention Center

Volunteering In A Family Detention Center

Chris Casuccio is UUCSJ’s Senior Associate for Immersion Learning Programs.

For a week in July, I had the privilege of leading a group of five dedicated volunteers to San Antonio, TX to serve as Spanish translators and legal volunteers with UUSC partner RAICES (Refugee and Immigrant Center for Education and Legal Services). This is the second year UUCSJ has organized a volunteer program with RAICES, and in total, 40 UUCSJ volunteers have participated in this program with RAICES.

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The work with RAICES takes place in rural South Texas, at a place called the “Karnes County Residential Center.” But don’t be deceived, it’s not somewhere you would want to reside. It is a private prison contracted by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and run by the GEO Group. The CEO of the GEO Group, George C. Zoley, made 6 million dollars in 2015.

Inside this center, RAICES provides pro bono legal services to hundreds of women and children from Central America: desperate people who have come to the U.S. fleeing gangs, poverty, rape, domestic violence, police repression and constant death threats. Current U.S. policy is to hold these families in detention as they begin their process for seeking asylum.

If they are lucky, they will get out with humiliating ankle monitors, and parole-style weekly check-ins with ICE — after telling their deeply private and often traumatic stories to an immigration official. Then, if they pass that “interview”, years of legal battles await them as they fight for asylum. If they aren’t lucky, the official decides their fear is not “credible”, and within days they are sent back to the hell they fled.

“Family detention” is the most contradictory phrase imaginable. In reality it is immoral and illegal. Women and children seeking safety and refuge from violence are not criminals and do not belong in prisons. And private companies should not be making money off of a humanitarian crisis.

 If reading this post makes you mad, frustrated, or sad… please, TAKE ACTION to end family detention! Later this month, UUSC and the Interfaith Immigration Coalition will be leading a week of action called Diapers in Detention. There are many ways for people to participate across the country. Whether you want to help arrange a “baby shower” at each ICE field office or send an ironic congratulations card to the Director of ICE, there is a way for you to stand up for these mothers and children.

Here is a google form where you can sign up to either organize or attend an event if you live in any of the 24 cities with an ICE ERO office (on the map on the flier). Please visit the Diapers in Detention website for more information!


PS – We would like to extend a deep and heartfelt thank you to the RAICES staff for their tireless advocacy in the detention centers, and to the First UU of San Antonio for all of the incredible support they offered our volunteers!

Learn more about our skilled volunteer opportunities at here!