RAICES (Refugee and Immigrant Center for Education and Legal Services)

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

Hurricane Harvey Update: The UUCSJ team is keeping a close eye on updates regarding the communities affected by Hurricans Harvey and Irma, particularly those who are most vulnerable. In partnership with RAICES and other UUSC grassroots partners in Texas and Florida, UUCSJ is exploring where and how volunteers can be most useful once the worst flooding has receded. We are starting volunteer database so that once the pathways for action become clear, we can effectively support the recovery and rebuilding efforts in Texas in the months to come. 

More detailed information will be shared as it become available in the coming weeks. Please sign up to join the volunteer list if you’re available to travel to Texas and/ or Florida to support relief efforts.

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: Click each button to learn more

Volunteers will work with women and children held at the nearby Karnes detention facility. All volunteers must bring patience and compassion and be prepared to work with children 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.

Advanced Spanish-Speakers

Volunteers who are at an advanced level or fluent in Spanish will be conducting intake interviews, providing interpretation for lawyers, and communicating with detained clients’ families.

Legal Professionals

Volunteer lawyers, law students, retired lawyers, or experienced paralegals will support detained clients through the credible fear interview process, prepare bond packets, prepare I-589 applications for asylum, and staff the hotline. Experience in immigration law is NOT required, since specific training will be provided.

Know Before You Go

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.
  • Spanish proficiency 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.

Currently, we are recruiting volunteers to arrive in San Antonio for the following dates:

  • Sunday, August 6, 2017
  • Sunday, October 8, 2017
  • Sunday, November 12, 2017
  • Sunday, December 3, 2017

Volunteers must commit to a minimum of one week but may volunteer for as long as six weeks.

If none of the dates work for you, but you’re still interested in volunteering another time, complete an interest form here

Lodging: Post-August 2017 volunteers only – if needed, UUCSJ can support volunteers in securing low-cost housing for the duration of their stay; however, volunteers are responsible for all housing costs.

Transportation: Volunteers are required to cover all costs of travel and transportation to and around 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.

Meals: Volunteers are required to cover all meal expenses during their volunteer placement.

On Sunday evening, prior to the start of the volunteer week, volunteers are invited to join a welcome dinner hosted by the 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.


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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