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Immigration Law

Reflections on Dilley Family Detention - Prof. Kristina Campbell

ImmigrationProf Blog, Mar. 11, 2016 - "The following was written by Kristina Campbell, Professor of Law and Director of the Immigration and Human Rights Clinic at the University of the District of Columbia David A. Clarke School of Law.  Kristina just spent her spring break volunteering at the family detention center in Dilley, TX, along with 9 law students, UDC's Dean of Clinical Education Prof. Jonathan Smith, and Clinic paralegal Jordana Arias." ---

 "Yesterday morning at the Dilley detention camp, I met with a family that I had been assisting with a review of their negative credible fear determination by the Immigration Judge. I had already met with the mom extensively the day before (Tuesday), and briefly with her daughter (age 11) regarding the murder of her husband’s father by gangs in Honduras. I had asked the daughter to do some “homework” for me, and write down her story about her life in Honduras. I asked her give the same homework to her brother (age 9). She smiled a big smile, took the paper I gave her, and went on her way.

When the children and their mother returned yesterday to meet with me to go over their homework – which we translated into English so we could submit them as evidence for their mom’s credible fear review today – my fantastic paralegal, Jordana, read them aloud to confirm that the translations were accurate, the 11-year-old daughter doubled over and began sobbing. And when I say sobbing, I mean the cries of someone in terrible pain – deep, horrible, wrenching cries of despair. Her little brother, more stoic than she, began to silently weep beside her. Jordana and I left our chairs and huddled on the floor next to them, hugging and attempting to console them in their unimaginable grief. Their mother, one of the strongest women I’ve ever met, sat behind them in the little office in the trailer that serves as our legal office for the week, tears streaming down her face while she held their sleeping 3-year-old sister in her arms.

I thought about that beautiful, smiling little girl I met on Tuesday, who crumpled into the traumatized and grieving little girl I held on Wednesday, and the weight of my responsibility as their attorney for their hearing set for this afternoon nearly overwhelmed me. What would I do if the judge today did not reverse the asylum officer’s decision, and this woman and her beautiful children were ordered removed back to Honduras? More importantly, what would happen to them? The sadness of their situation, and the utter despair of those children consumed my thoughts all day, and all night.

We had our hearing just after lunch today. After a short series of questions, the judge reversed the asylum officer’s decision, finding that this woman has a credible fear of return to Honduras. The judge dismissed us and we walked in the hallway of the “court” – another modular trailer unit in this horrific place – and she collapsed into my arms, sobbing the same wracking sobs her daughter had yesterday. Her sobs were not ones of grief, but of relief; that for this moment, at least, she knows that she and her children will soon be released from the detention camp, and reunited with her legal permanent resident mother here in the United States, and she can apply for asylum for herself and her children.

What I want anyone reading this to take away from my story is this: these women and children are refugees. This is a humanitarian crisis, and we are treating people fleeing for their lives like criminals, when their only crime is the desire to live. Please share with anyone who has faith and/or conscience – we must #endfamilydetention."