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 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.