Spring break in Texas: Students provide legal support for detained immigrants

Four students in UW Law School's Immigrant Justice Clinic spent their spring break in San Antonio, Texas, where they provided volunteer legal services for migrant women and children detained at the Karnes County Residential Center.

Karnes is a federal detention facility that currently holds around 500 women and children, primarily from Central America. "The women fled extreme violence in their home countries, escaping with their children in the hopes of finding asylum in the United States," explains Stacy Taeuber, director of the IJC. "They made the perilous journey north through Mexico from Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador, only to find themselves held with their children in a jail-like setting while they make their legal claims."

IJC students who traveled to Texas report that living conditions at the center are dire, with women and children facing prolonged confinement, unclean drinking water, and lack of medical care. And given the daunting caseload — tens of thousands of refugees were detained last year — nonprofit agencies are struggling to provide the legal services needed to secure asylum.

Students Gabriela Parra, Christopher Russell, Jared Prado, and Tatiana Shirasaki recently shared their thoughts about the experience.

Gabriela Parra“I am puzzled by a federal policy that involves detaining mothers and children, who had been severely victimized in their home countries, in a prison-like setting. Listening to their stories was heartbreaking. So for me, the most difficult part of the trip is knowing that, unless volunteers continue to help with the caseloads, women and children will remain trapped in detention, or worse, be sent back to a place where their lives are in danger.” —Gabriela Parra, 3L

Christopher Russell “These are some strong mothers. After experiencing unimaginable hardship, they confront a legal process that can drag on for four or five years, thanks to the backlog in our immigration courts. To win the opportunity to present their story in court they have to establish a ‘credible fear of persecution.’ And then they have to convince a judge to grant their family a realistic bond. They shouldn’t have to face these legal hurdles alone.” —Christopher Russell, 2L

Jared Prado
“We spent long hours working, but the days really didn’t seem long because of how we collaborated as a team, and because we knew the work was important. One of our tasks was helping families complete their pro se bond packets, which is the paperwork they’ll need to represent themselves in a bond hearing. This could be extremely valuable to a detainee and her family. By getting bond, she’ll have a fighting chance at winning her asylum claim, and the odds are not as stacked against her.”  Jared Prado, 3L

Tatiana Shirasaki“Sadly, these women and children do not have the right to appointed counsel. One mother of two boys told me she fled her country because members of a drug cartel were going to kill her and her family. She came to the U.S. hoping they would survive the dangers of the journey, never expecting to be treated like a criminal after arriving. As I explained to her that we were law students, she interrupted, ‘I know you are not lawyers, you’re angels here to help us.’” —Tatiana Shirasaki, LL.M.


Submitted by Law School News on May 14, 2015

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