Finding Hope at the Border
As this Administration continues to devise ways to separate immigrant families seeking asylum in this country and thwarts their efforts to remain here, groups are organizing to combat this inhumane treatment. This past August I had the privilege to participate in a small delegation of volunteer attorneys going to Port Isabel Detention Center at the southern Texas border to provide legal assistance to asylum seekers detained at the Border. For one week, we empowered individuals to fight the injustices they faced and to fight for a life with their family in safety and freedom.
The delegation was organized by HIAS, an organization devoted to protecting refugees around the world. HIAS partnered with The South Texas Pro Bono Asylum Representation Project (Pro Bar), located about 30 minutes from the detention center. We were nine in our delegation- five lawyers and four interpreters; seven women and two men. We spanned the generations from ages 22 -72, all sharing the same zeal to help those we were about to meet behind the locked doors of the detention center.
All our clients were men seeking asylum in this country. All had been separated abruptly from their children who were detained in other states. Most of these men were from Honduras, fleeing persecution by the drug cartel with no protection by the police. They had witnessed the murder of multiple family members and friends or had been directly threatened themselves.
Our clients knew where their children were detained and were able to speak to them by phone. Yet, there were no plans in place for their reunification. Instead, reunification appeared to be on hold pending our clients’ release or deportation, if the children were to return with them. All our clients faced the prospect of deportation unless they passed a “credible fear” interview with an asylum officer, convincing the officer that they were fleeing from persecution as a result of being a member of a targeted social group; and could not find safety anywhere in their home country.
This interview has high stakes for the asylum seeker– the chance for release in the United States pending a permanent asylum hearing, or deportation to a dangerous country with greater restrictions on seeking asylum in the United States in the future. Yet the detainees received no guidance from the US government regarding this interview. This is where we stepped in, helping clients prepare for the interview by identifying key facts to meet the legal tests, and appealing orders that had found no credible fear. Appeals were often based on the argument that our clients had been presented for interviews at times when they were under severe stress from separation from their children and were given no notice or explanation of the process.
The interview preparation and successful appeals brought hope and staying power to the detainees. On our last day a client hearing about another detainee’s positive interview said that for the first time he had hope.
— Ruthanne Miller, WNDC Member