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ASC /ICLC Attorneys Assist Detainees at Remote ICE Detention Facility

As the current administration continues its assault on immigrants, detention centers are over capacity and asylum seekers are being sent to remote detention centers around the U.S. Places where there are no attorneys who can help them. They have no rights and they are treated as less than human. ASC and ICLC attorneys recently went the extra mile, literally, by traveling to provide pro bono legal counsel to help these asylum seekers.

Sophia (pictured from left), Associate at Cyrus D. Mehta & Partners PLLC (and 2016 ASC legal intern), African Services Committee Staff attorney Deirdre, ASC Immigrant Community Law Center (ICLC) attorney Jessica, and ASC’s indispensable multilingual volunteer Lucia volunteered for a week with the Southern Poverty Law Center's Southeast Immigrant Freedom Initiative where they assisted individuals held at the Folkston, Georgia ICE Processing Center, which is a civil detention facility that houses 1,200 detainees. The detainees are mostly Central American and were apprehended at the southern border when fleeing to the promises of safety, security, and peace in the United States. 

“These individuals are not criminals, but many have been detained for nearly one year and will be deported to their country without experiencing freedom in the United States. The detainees are individuals who, like our Ellis Island ancestors, crave stability, abhor violence, and believe in the American Dream. Yet, rather than welcome these individuals into the United States, we detain immediately and then relocate to rural prisons where the nearest immigration attorney is hundreds of miles away and where the immigration courts have repulsive asylum denial rates,” wrote the team while in Folkston. For example, the Atlanta Immigration Court, which has jurisdiction over Folkston, denies 93 percent of asylum cases and to compare, in New York, the denial rate is 17 percent.

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Student Activist from Honduras

During their time volunteering, ASC/ ICLC attorneys drafted the bond motion for a twenty year old student activist from Honduras who had been severely beaten by the military police on account of his political opinion and activism. Their client was a prominent and vocal member of the opposition political group in Honduras. During the November 2017 Honduran presidential elections, the client assisted elderly members of his community to travel to the polling stations. When election officials closed the polls too early, the client reached out to military police patrolling the area to demand that they re-open the polling stations so Hondurans could rightfully cast their votes. The military police became angry with his insistence and began to beat him, leaving him severely wounded. The client reported the incident to the police, but was told there was nothing they could do.

A few weeks later, the client was specifically targeted by the military police again when he was on his way home from a political meeting. The police pulled him from his car and beat him, accusing him of being a rioter. He was told to leave the country or else he would be killed. He was also warned that if he went to the national police, that he would be killed.

Fearing for his life, The client fled to the U.S. in April 2018 and has been in detention ever since. He was screened by volunteer attorneys several weeks ago regarding the strength of his asylum claim and eligibility for bond. He's one of the few "lucky" migrants/asylum seekers at the Folkston ICE Processing Center who has legal representation for his bond proceedings. The team is hopeful he will be out by the end of September. 

Russian Father

They met with a Russian man to see if they could help with his parole application. He had been in detention for five months and few people spoke his language. “He was so lonely. We talked for about an hour and as I was getting ready to leave, I asked if he had any more questions. He had been stoic for our conversation, but then he looked at me and his eyes were wet,” Deirdre said. “He said he had money in the commissary and asked if he could send it home to his family. He started to cry and said he had a four year old daughter at home and he was so worried about her. He said he had used so much of their money to flee that he wanted to give what he had left to her.”

Political Activist from Venezuela

On the second day, Lucia and Deirdre met with a Venezuelan man who fled his country due to his political activities. He has been in detention since May 23, 2018. Deirdre was the first attorney he spoke to and during his time in detention, he has faced racism, verbal abuse, and limited time outside. An officer said to him, “You can’t speak English. Why are you in this country?” The client started to cry while describing this, saying: “I left my country because I had to, I am not trying to invade. But this is what it felt like in my home country.” He told Lucia and Deirdre  that they were "light to him." When they returned two days later, he gave them each a handmade shoe decoration made out of chip bags.

Mam from Guatemala

The volunteers also met with a client who is indigenous Mam from Guatemala. “This client is a very devout Evangelical Christian and the kindest, sweetest human. He has resisted recruitment by rival gangs in his town and has been severely beaten because of it. He says his belief in God and being a good person is why he has resisted. He didn't want to be responsible for others' suffering. The local gangs constantly assaulted him due to his Mam heritage, his religion, and his resistance of them. He fled to the US to escape this persecution,” wrote the volunteers. He only speaks Mam. Because of this, he can't communicate with immigration officials about his credible fear of return to his country. He arrived in the U.S. in November 2017. He has been in immigration detention ever since.

“Today, nine months into his detention, he was able to speak to an attorney for the first time through an interpreter that spoke his language. For nine months, this individual had to wait to find out what was going on. For nine months, this individual had to wonder what the word ‘asylum’ meant. For nine months, this individual had to wait to ask when he was going to get out of here.”

One week after the team returned to New York City, ASC learned the client had to represent himself, as he was once again without an attorney and a translator. The judge ordered the client be deported. 

"A big ‘thank you’ to the sponsors and donors who made this experience possible. And, most importantly: ‘thank you' to the Folkston SIFI staff (Henri, Meredyth, and Ishrat) for hosting us. You guys are our heroes — lending a hand and a listening ear to the most desperate, the most vulnerable, the most frustrated, and the most forgotten. It was an honor to fight alongside each of you in the trenches,” write Sophia, Deirdre, Jessica and Lucia.  

 

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