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.
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!