RAICES has issued a call for volunteers to assist in life-saving work

RAICES (Refugee and Immigrant Center for Education and Legal Services), a UUSC partner, provides free and low-cost education to underserved immigrant families, children, and refugees in Central and South Texas. Many of these families are fleeing violence from their home countries in Central America.

For more information, read Five Facts about Migration from Central America’s Northern Triangle (WOLA, January 2016)

According to the article, U.S./ Mexico Border Patrol captured the highest number of families and unaccompanied children ever in December 2015 – nearly 8,500 family-unit members and 6,000 unaccompanied children were apprehended and taken to detention centers.

Immigrants and refugees double their chances of being approved to pursue asylum with legal advice and representation. The thousands who do not receive help are likely deported back to danger.

If they had sent me back, I would be dead now.
– Kevyn Merida, child refugee and RAICES client

Volunteer Skills Needed:
Fluent Spanish Speakers

Volunteers will work at either the nearby Karnes detention facility or a the local bus station with recently released asylum seekers (mainly women and children). UUCSJ cannot accept volunteers who are not fluent in Spanish.

All volunteers must bring patience and compassion and be prepare to work with individuals who have experienced trauma. Volunteers must also be aware of the emotionally challenging nature of the work and be confident of their ability to manage their own needs in a demanding environment. Training and orientation will be provided to volunteers prior to service.

  • Working at Karnes: Volunteers will be conducting intake interviews, providing interpretation for lawyers, and communicating with detained clients’ families.
  • Working at the bus station: Volunteers will take on vital tasks such as provide basic resources, ensuring the safety of, and sharing essential information (Know Your Rights information) to individuals and families departing San Antonio.
Volunteer Dates

Volunteer at Karnes:
All dates are Monday through Saturday

  • February 11 – 15, 2019: 4 Volunteers Needed
  • April 1 – 5, 2019: 4 Volunteers Needed
  • July 1 – 5, 2019: 4 Volunteers Needed

Volunteer at the bus station:
All dates are Monday through Friday

  • December 17 – 21, 2018: 4 Volunteers Needed
  • February 11 – 15, 2019: 4 Volunteers Needed
  • April 8 – 12, 2019: 4 Volunteers Needed
  • June 3 – 7, 2019: 4 Volunteers Needed
  • July 29 – August 2, 2019: 4 Volunteers Needed

Please note: RAICES volunteers must commit to a minimum of one week.

Costs and Logistics

Volunteers are required to cover the cost of their travel to and from San Antonio, housing, and meals for the duration of their volunteer placement. Participants may be able to receive minimal financial assistance from UUCSJ.

Transportation: Once in San Antonio, carpooling is strongly encouraged to volunteer sites around the San Antonio area (the Karnes Detention Center is a one hour drive from San Antonio). UUCSJ can subsidize the cost of renting a vehicle if volunteers are traveling without a car. The bus station is centrally located within the downtown area of San Antonio.

Community and Spirituality

On Sunday prior to the start of the volunteer week, volunteers are invited to attend service at First UU Church in San Antonio, where participants will have the opportunity to get to know each other better, as well as connect with the UU congregation and learn about their justice initiatives. Throughout the week, volunteers are encouraged to participate in daily spiritual reflections during their first week, and share meals together. UUCSJ may schedule calls before and after the volunteer experience to support community building and reflection. Visit Spiritual Practice and Social Justice for more information.

Karnes Checklist: Please Review

What to Know & What to Bring:

  • The Karnes Pro Bono Project is staffed by RAICES attorneys, legal assistants, interns and volunteers. Volunteers will work as part of a team to assist as many women and children as we can each day.
  • Advanced Spanish language or fluency is required. Legal experience is preferred, but not required. Training and orientation are provided to all volunteers by RAICES staff.
  • The RAICES team is at Karnes every Monday through Thursday. Depending on the time of year, we may also staff the Project on Fridays. You will know in advance of your trip if you will be asked to be there on a Friday.
  • The days are long! Our team will typically spend 8 or more hours at Karnes each day, not including travel time (an hour each way to/from San Antonio).
  • Volunteers are highly encouraged to coordinate transportation in advance of their trip to San Antonio. Carpooling to and from the detention center may be available.
  • Bring a printed copy of your clearance letter and valid ID. All non-attorneys require pre-clearance; an active attorney in good standing may present her bar card/letter and valid ID. Clearances are obtained by RAICES.
  • Laptops and/or tablets are required as you will be uploading notes to the client database. No cell phones are permitted inside the detention center, so communication is limited to email.
  • We encourage you to take breaks as needed and eat lunch. Bring plenty of water.
  • All bags will be checked and you will be required to pass through metal detectors.
  • The temperature inside Karnes is unusually chilly. Bring a sweater or light jacket for your comfort.
  • Volunteers will have access to a refrigerator and microwave outside of the common visitation room. It is recommended that you bring plenty of water and snacks along with a packed lunch.
  • No metal utensils, glass containers or aluminum cans are permitted.


Guatemalan Slang Dictionary

Organization – Detention Watch Network

Podcast – Sick on the Inside: Behind Bars in Immigrant Only PrisonsReveal, from the Center for Investigative Reporting (54:22 minutes)

Movie – Ixcanul (2015): From YouTube: Maria, a 17 year old Mayan girl, lives and works with her parents on a coffee plantation in the foothills of an active volcano in Guatemala. An arranged marriage awaits her: her parents have promised her to Ignacio, the plantation overseer. But Maria doesn’t sit back and accept her destiny (91 minutes)

Article – Seeking Asylum, Seeking to Stay Together, Katie Schlechter, Latino USA, June 2017

Article – Fatima’s Fate: An Escape Bid That Ended in Tragedy, Daniel Howden, Refugees Deeply,  January 2017

Article – Palantir Enables Immigration Agents to Access Information from the CIA, Spencer Woodman, The Intercept, March 2017

Article – Migrant or Refugee? The limits of definitions, Preethi Nallu, Refugees Deeply, March 2016

Article – Why the Children Fleeing Central America Will Not Stop Coming. Oscar Martinez, The Nation, July 2014

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Heather Vickery is responsible for developing and maintaining relationships with UU congregations, State Action Networks, past UU College of Social Justice (UUCSJ) program participants, and regional staff in order to expand engagement in UUSC and UUCSJ’s work. As the Coordinator for Congregational Activism, she manages the workshop offerings and group visits to the UUSC/UUCSJ office and assists with communications for the Activism and Justice Education Team. Heather is an active member of the Boston Immigration Justice Accompaniment Network and a dedicated dog-mom to her rescue puppy Nova.

Heather may be contacted at hvickery@uucsj.org and 617-301-4303