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:
- gang violence which inevitably involves taking life or threatening to and
- 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.