Report from Dilley

This is the first instalment of a blog that a fellow US immigration lawyer, B. John Ovink, wrote about his time volunteering at the Dilley Detention Center  which has been in the news recently for the conditions in which immigrant children and mothers are being held there. Lawyers volunteering with the Cara Pro Bono project to provide legal representation of the children and mothers who are being held in the Dilley Detention Center.

The Cara Pro Bono Project is funding American immigration lawyers to go to Dilley to represent immigrant children and mothers who the US Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency are incarcerating in prison like conditions.

Dilley blog. day 1. we have 76 intakes today, prepping women for their credible fear interview. hopelessly understaffed, usually we don’t see more than 50 people per day. the day only has 12 hours here, we need to be out by 17 pm. dhs are stepping up the number of interviews, apparently to comply with the 20 day detention order. Hmmm. oh well. there are about > 20 women and children waiting. everybody is silent, anticipating. i can’t get into my database, which doesn’t help. but problems are there to be overcome, right? ok, going to work. ttyl.  

it’s the small victories that count. i have access to the client database. i have internet access. i even have coffee. and i’m going to try my spanish, and, like last time, i’m amazed at their ability to communicate with my lack of spanish. we don’t have enough translators. if any of you can come here next week, even for a few days, please. 

fortunately, some kids remain kids. They yell, they want attention. And they cry. They shouldn’t be here.They don’t understand it, and, quite frankly, neither do I. Inside me is a battle to shut out emotions so I can do this job for the week, and showing compassion  for their cases. I see the pink green yellow tees hirts that show the false gaiety of their situation. Daugher of my client has her 10th birthday in jail next week. she wants to be in school, not sit in a depressing room with lawyers. she wants to play. instead her face is sad, serious, worried. i feel for her. wish i could bring her a cake. or balloon. but we aren’t allowed. The guard explained this morning that if we give them candy they can choke and then they need to call emergency, and i guess it’ll be their fault if someone dies. Sure. Whatever. First three cfi preps down, four to go this afternoon, I guess. This never gets easy, but the volume keeps us going. Lunchbreak.

it’s 6:20. I’ve done 9 credible fear interview preps. Actually, I must say that the women are extremely articulate. Oh, and I feel I swallowed a Spanish dictionary and it moved straignt up my brain. I actually understand what they tell me. Basically I need to help them rearrange the story so that the central reason for leaving their country becomes immediately apparent to an officer tomorrow. Sometimes that takes digging, and I find im becoming very good at connecting dots past paths yet unseen. But they connect. Needless to say I’m drained, it’s exhausting work, you basically concentrate for 11 hours straight. The good thing is there is no time to let the emotional side of their stories come to you. It’s called suppression, it lets me do the work. The thoughts will come tonight after I fall asleep. More of the same tomorrow.

I actually discover that kids running around being kids is a welcome distraction. Very few do, most are totally subdued. One girl returned from school while I was prepping her mother. We made time so she could talk about her teacher, it was her first day in school.  She showed a drawing. Let’s hope that one day she’ll go to a real school outside this prison.

Final word, we have again an amazing team, and Isabel is holding us together on her own. (Maybe with Aminta). Tonight Brian and Ian return.

Need a drink.

Thanks for taking the time to read this. For more information about the Cara Pro Bono Project and for information on how to donate, please click here.