Today is our first full day here and it’s very disheartening and exciting at the same time. There have been some limited successes in the past couple weeks. Less than 5 women have been able to bond out and 2 have been granted asylum. A couple were finally released this week because their kids were so sick that ICE thought it was a liability to keep them here. Basically this is a prison for mothers and children. They are in dorm style rooms, not cells, but the place is surrounded by a double barbed wire fence and they can’t go anywhere without an ICE officer’s permission.
The conditions for meeting with clients aren’t as bad as I expected and over the past 6 weeks AILA has been able to work out a system with ICE to have access to the women when needed. There are about 300 women here right now and more are expected at the end of the week. ICE is in the process of setting up classrooms so the kids can go to school in the near future which is required by Federal Law. [Great way to spend our tax dollars when these women could just be released to their families and their cases handled by courts in their areas rather than having to see Judges via video conferencing to the court in VA]
Clearly the policy of detention is not going to end anytime soon, which is very disappointing. Everyone here feels betrayed by the President and can’t understand what could possibly be going through his mind – who is he trying to appease and why?
On a positive note, we met with two women today (one from El Salvador and one from Honduras) and helped them prepare for upcoming bond hearings that will likely take place after we’ve left. One of the women I came with, Sandra, already had a hearing and was able to get a judge to overturn a negative credible fear decision so her client can move forward with an asylum application. The courage of these women in this insane situation is amazing and definitely makes one appreciate that by an accident of birth we were born Americans. And the lawyers here are awesome. Some have been here for weeks or are back for their second and third time and the dedication is both contagious and inspiring. I’m sure that if this goes on for a long time I will have to come back.
There is work here for all immigration lawyers. It’s not necessary that you be a seasoned litigator. AILA has set up a pretty good system of templates, etc. for us to work from and only those that want to go to court have to. We need to let AILA know that we support the continued effort here.