Article Community Service

Fighting the Detention of Children: CARA Pro Bono Project.

Fighting the Detention of Children: CARA Pro Bono Project.

Author Zainab Alwan by

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I met S.J. on my first day volunteering in the South Texas Family Residential Detention Center. She told me one of the most horrific stories I have ever heard in my life. The detention center where we met is located in a remote town called Dilley, TX. I spent a week volunteering there with the CARA pro bono project, which assists women and children in their Credible Fear and Reasonable Fear interviews (“CFI” or “RFI”). A CFI/RFI is an interview conducted with an Asylum Officer wherein the officer determines whether the asylum seeker has credible fear of returning home. If the asylum seeker passes this interview, they are placed in detention proceedings and allowed to apply for an asylum in the United States; if they do not pass, they are deported to their home country.

I spent most of my days listening to the women as they told us why they decided to risk the dangerous journey from their home country. Many of these women had never told anyone of the pain they had experienced. S.J. was one of those women. The pain poured out of her as she spoke of her stepfather who had sexually assaulted her on numerous occasions. She spoke of how her brother would stand guard in her bedroom to protect her at night. She remembered how she was beaten by her stepfather on numerous occasions, and even rolled up her sleeves to show us the scars that were left after her arms were beaten 48 times with a pipe. As the days went on, we experienced many moments of pain and sadness. I remember another woman, F.K., who looked emaciated and sick. When I asked her why she fled with three small children, her eyes widened and she exclaimed in a panicked tone that she knew she would die. She thought the mental abuse she suffered from her husband was literally killing her slowly day by day.

These women and their children are currently held in what can only be called a makeshift prison. The South Texas Family Residential Detention Center opened on December 15, 2014. To an outside observer, it looks like a hastily constructed trailer park. The government claims it detains women and children as a form of deterrence, however, the number of women and children detained at the border has increased. Furthermore, on the ground, CARA attorneys explained that about 20% of the women and children that cross the border are placed into this detention center at random.

As I stated above, we spent most of our days preparing the women and children for their CFI interview. The stories I heard were horrific and shocking. The children were just as, if not more, traumatized as their mothers. The horrible violence experienced in their home country, coupled with their traumatic journey to the United States and current imprisonment in the U.S. led to not only mental trauma, but physical illness in many. One child’s mother brought him to the United States because her son was so ill that she feared he would die. He had a history of seizures and asthma. Due to the terrible conditions of the United States processing center, he contracted a lung infection and required immediate medical attention. The detention center confiscated his medication and refused to provide further treatment.

Although I had previously known that children were detained in this prison, it never really hit me until I witnessed them crawling around in tiny prison outfits. The shock of it left me in silence. There is no humane way to detain a child.

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