VOLUNTEER ATTORNEYS FROM ROBERT D. AHLGREN & ASSOCIATES BATTLE AGAINST UNJUST DETENTION OF ASYLUM-SEEKING MOTHERS AND CHILDREN IN TEXAS
In September of 2014, the Law Offices of Robert D. Ahlgren and Associates sent two attorneys, Monica Eav and Kathleen Vannucci, to Artesia, New Mexico, to volunteer their services to asylum-seeking Central American mothers and children, whom U.S. Immigrations and Customs Enforcement (ICE) was detaining without bail or with exorbitantly high bail amounts, in a temporary holding facility in Artesia, New Mexico.
Sadly, the same situation persists today, only now in a permanent ICE facility located in Dilley, Texas. The South Texas Family Residential Center, as it is called, is located 87 miles north of the border with Mexico. The facility has been in operation since December of 2014.
In March of 2015, the Law Offices of Robert D. Ahlgren & Associates sent another two volunteers, this time attorneys Victoria Fehr and Tess Feldman, to continue fighting against this injustice.
Built and funded by tax dollars, the South Texas Family Residential Center, or “Dilley” as it is informally known, is a private facility run by Corrections Corporation of America. It will soon house over 2,000 women and children caught entering the United States at the border with Mexico. If an arriving mother with her children expresses a fear of returning to her home country, she will not be processed and helped in the way our immigration system normally does for non-criminal asylum seekers: by being released under supervision or being offered a reasonable bond, with a later date in court to prove her case. Instead, the mother and her children will be “offered an unusually high bond amount of approximately ten thousand dollars, and will be detained in this jail for an indefinite amount of time while her family or community struggles to come up with the funds.
During their week in Dilley, Tess and Victoria worked each day in trailers surrounded by fences. The Dilley facility greatly restricts the ability and access of women to see or work with an attorney. They receive help only if there are volunteers available and they manage to hear about their services. The women and their children face numerous obstacles at the facility, including coping with the trauma they suffered in their home countries while imprisoned in a facility with poor food and harsh conditions. The conditions cause many children to struggle with recurring illness and depression, some as young as just a few weeks old.
For Tess and Victoria, each day began at 5:30am, grabbing case files, laptops, blank forms and office supplies. Entering the trailer, escorted by guards, they and other attorney volunteers quickly set up their temporary “office”, which consisted of a few books donated by other attorney volunteers, 3 boxes of files and 1 travel-size scanner. The attorney volunteers disappeared into tiny grey cubicles to begin meeting with clients. Throughout the week, Tess, Victoria and the other volunteer attorneys attended credible fear interviews and helped the women to obtain supporting documentation to request a lowering of their bond from the Immigration Judge. The horrors that each of these mothers and children had survived was more than Tess or Victoria could have imagined.
For Tess and Victoria, it was an honor to work with these courageous women and children and do their best to bring hope, information, representation, and help to some of our society’s most vulnerable. Hopefully, with the on-going generosity of law firms like the Law Offices of Robert D. Ahlgren and Associates who are sending volunteers and support, more of the asylum-seeking mothers and children detained at the border will begin to receive the care and assistance they deserve. Until then, the fight to end this horrible, inhumane system of family detention must continue.