When I first agreed to go to Artesia, I had no idea what I was walking into. I knew the background of the facility and what was happening there, but being an attorney there is something completely unique and heartbreaking. The on the ground team faces a myriad of ups and downs every day and still continues to represent clients, fight for their release, and win cases. As I write this, they are currently 10 for 10 in asylum cases that they have represented through to the merits (final) hearing. The woman who won her case this week stopped in to the project headquarters with her two children to say good bye before she went on her journey. Everyone clapped for her and she said “free!” It was a very powerful moment because the project and the volunteer attorney who tried the case was able to give this woman a new life after so many traumas in her home country. After being here for only a few days, I have immense respect for those who have been here for months and still have the energy to keep going.
After a three hour orientation on Sunday night, we were immediately put to work. The previous Thursday, the day that President Obama announced his executive action, eleven clients of the AILA Pro-Bono project were woken up at 11pm and told that they were being transferred to another facility. They were forced to gather their things and their young children and move through processing. There was no notice or directions given. The women were unable to call their attorneys or anyone in their family to let them know that they were being transferred. Many thought they were being deported and were terrified to be sent back to the situations that they had escaped to come to the United States.
The women were eventually not transferred, but not until after a traumatic experience for them and their children. When I arrived, our first job was to help draft declarations for these women to document their experience. Many of the women I met with were completely terrified that at any moment ICE would come and take them away. The detention facility here in Artesia will be closing down by the end of the year, so the reality that many of these women and children will be moved to a different location in Texas is on everyone’s mind. Many of these women have been in the facility since the summer and are scared of moving to a completely new place. They are detained, but at least they were able to connect with others, build relationships, and learn the rules of their detention location in Artesia. Without that familiarity, they felt re-traumatized and scared about their uncertain futures. In response to this pending move, the Artesia Pro Bono Project has focused on bond submissions and scheduling bond hearings in order to help as many women and children bond out as possible before the facility is shut down.
During my time here I have had the pleasure of seeing quite a few clients of the project receiving reasonable bond amounts and being able to leave the facility. Winning a bond hearing and receiving a low amount is not easy, however. The government attorneys frequently offer extensive pushback and it is only through strong advocacy efforts both in and out of the courtroom that individuals are being able to live free while they are waiting for final decisions in their cases. These individuals are not threats to the community. They are women and children who fled their homes and left their entire lives behind because of fear. Fear for their safety and for the safety of their children. The more I interact with these women, the more I realize that the idea of detaining them for coming here looking for safety and security, is outrageous and wrong. Almost all of them have positive credible fear interviews and the struggles they have overcome to leave their countries and terrible situations are astonishing. Instead of locking these women and children up, we should be helping them move forward with their lives and offering them a security that they have never known.
Amber L. Raffeet