Families fleeing violence and threats of death arrive to the U.S. border to seek asylum. For many, the asylum process starts with the applicants’ detention in centers across the United States. Mothers with children are often detained in “family residential” centers, such as the South Texas Family Residential Center (STFRC) of Dilley, Texas. These families, including infants, are detained for several days and sometimes weeks pending the result of their Credible Fear Interview. Throughout the past several years, there has been an attack on legal immigration, including on those families seeking asylum. Last summer, we saw families being separated at the border and children being torn from parents to go to a separate detention facility while their parents were being criminally prosecuted for coming to the United States.
After learning about the conditions these families were facing, lawyers at the Mdivani Corporate Immigration Law Firm decided to travel to the STFRC to volunteer with the Dilley Pro Bono Project. Many lawyers in the Missouri/Kansas AILA chapter have volunteered at ICE jails holding immigrant women and children, doing the work that Rekha Sharma-Crawford calls protecting humanity. In February 2019, answering AILA’s call, all four lawyers at our firm traveled to Dilley, Texas to do pro-bono work assisting the women and children in preparing for their Credible Fear Interviews. In these interviews, the asylum seekers must convince the USCIS officer that their life and/or their children’s lives would be in legitimate danger – that fits within the limited categories protected by asylum law – if forced to return to their home country. We spent hours with mothers and children to ensure they could understand their claims. We listened to their stories, and we explained to them their rights and the legal procedure happening around them.
In Dilley, we learned first-hand about the relentless persecution, violence, grief, and injustices experienced by the women and children we represented. We also clearly saw that having lawyers prepare and represent them in the asylum process can literally make a difference between life and death. We encourage everyone who has not made it to Dilley or other ICE detention facilities to take the leap and volunteer. Steve Kirschbaum volunteered in Dilley with us as well, even though he has retired (this is what awesome people do when they retire)! We would also like to thank Angela Williams, who gave us training before we left for Dilley, and our Chapter Chair Ken Schmitt, for his excellent and moving send-off.
If you are interested in volunteering, contact us or the Dilley Pro Bono Project. You can volunteer directly or even remotely! Additionally, donations go a long way to keep amazing projects like this one running. Your support allows advocates on the ground to continue working hard to make sure the government does not overstep its bounds.
We are thankful we had the opportunity to serve in Dilley, and we are forever grateful to our supportive business clients who encouraged us to participate in this very important pro bono project.