A Week in Baby Jail – Dilley, TX
Volunteering at the Immigration Family Detention Center for Women and Children
The Story of Mariposa – Part 2
I began to understand the importance of CARA’s presence in baby jail very quickly. CARA is a group of organizations and volunteers that are committed to ensuring that detained children and their mothers receive competent, pro bono representation, and developing aggressive, effective advocacy and litigation strategies to end the practice of family detention.
On Tuesday, my partnered attorney, Alex (fictional name), and I were sitting at the counsel table in court at 8am once again, and as we would do every day we were there, waiting for Judge “RDJ” to begin proceedings. Alex looked at the day’s docket with some angst in his eyes, as we were learning that most of the women appearing today had not had any contact with CARA before. It was a long, but very productive morning. We wondered what position some of these women would be in without us there to guide them through the legal process. Some women had no idea why they had been called to court. Others had been forced to sign papers accepting the ankle bracelets before they got a chance to have a bond hearing before an immigration judge; even when they had family waiting to sponsor and pay bond! They had no idea what their rights were. ICE manipulated and deceived left and right, and the whole thing was almost like a chess match with them, trying to stay on top of their every move.
It was a great pleasure to appear in this Immigration Judge’s courtroom. What a just and compassionate woman. All week, when ICE made one lose hope in humanity and the rule of law, this judge would restore faith and treat every woman who appeared before her with the dignity that they deserve. We saw her reverse blatantly unfair negative CFIs, make ICE accountable, and most importantly, actually listen to the stories of the refugee women.
One Honduran woman, Maria, had her bond documents together, and in court on Tuesday, the judge told her to acquire her sponsor’s proof of legal status, and she would be issued a low bond of between $2000 and $2500.
According to her, her sponsor was a “friend” she had met in Honduras a couple of years ago, with whom she had maintained a relationship over the phone. Her friend had told her that she could only afford the minimum $1500 bond, and had housing for her so that she could get on her feet and get a job. Maria had apparently already requested the copy of her friend’s permanent residence card, but the request had gone ignored on more than one occasion. We asked for a continuance until the end of the week, to give the sponsor time to send the document.
We met with Maria again in the afternoon to get more details and offer help. She gave two phone numbers for the joint sponsor, and we made many calls in the following days. They all went to voicemail.
The next day, Maria walked into the attorney trailer looking for us. I noticed a look in her eyes as if she had suffered gravely, and the news she brought was telling of why. She had made contact with her friend, and her friend had told her that she could simply not afford any bond higher than $1500. Maria had told her that she planned on accepting the alternative, the ankle bracelet, and her friend had reacted disgusted at the idea. She had told her that she is going to look like a criminal and did not want someone like that in her home. She told her she would not be able to work, and would bring ICE’s attention to her home for her checkups. She told her that this is not what she had envisioned, and that she should perhaps have not come to the U.S. She told her to ask to be deported to Mexico instead of Honduras, to avoid the danger in Honduras and be close to the U.S. if she wanted to sneak across the border.
Maria completed her story, and sat in front of us strong and tall. I could tell her soul was crying from the inside, as she was clearly holding back tears. Her toddler daughter was outside of our room, playing with other children. All we could say was that we were so sorry. Neither Alex nor I had dealt with a situation like this yet, and we did not know what to do. With broken hearts, we did our best to stand strong with her and told her that we would reach out to the CARA network and try to find relief for her. She had nowhere to turn. We knew that a return to Honduras would result in death at the hands of her ex that she left behind. We told Maria that we would have to ask for a continuance from the judge again the next day, and that would give us time to help her find a solution. This haunted Alex and me the whole week.
The CARA volunteers listened to the problem that night, and thankfully, had a fund for bonds from one of CARA’s organizations, RAICES (Refugee and Immigrant Center for Education and Legal Services), that could help Maria. She still needed somewhere to go after bonding out, a problem for which CARA was also trying to find relief.
The next morning, we asked for a continuance in court, and told Maria we would see her later in the afternoon. Accordingly, we sent for Maria to be called to the attorney trailer that same afternoon to explain the relatively good news from the last night’s meeting. She never showed. Nor the next day. Flooded with hundreds of woman and their children, we recorded and left the issue for the next week’s volunteers, and Alex and I felt powerless. We wondered why she had not showed up, and what was to happen to her. Unfortunately, it would turn out that while not common, there were other cases like Maria’s that volunteers had run into throughout the week. Every night after Tuesday, our big table volunteer meetings were filled with tears as volunteers processed the horrifying stories of the poor women and children, and the horrors that we wanted to prevent.
A hopeful C and Mariposa showed up before the end of Tuesday to share the additional documents their sponsor had sent. His letter still needed some work, but things were looking bright for minimum bond. C shared with us that she and her daughter lived in the part of the detention center labeled “Mariposa,” or butterfly. She explained how hard it was to live in baby jail for two months, and how she had to stay strong for her daughter.
She was worried about Mariposa. Mariposa was not eating much, as she had stopped eating the usual hamburgers and hotdogs that were being served every day. C explained that the “classes” were a joke, with teachers showing up and taking a seat back. “Mami,” she said that Mariposa would tell her, “I want to have wings like the butterflies and fly out of here.” Mariposa was noticeably different from the other children; she was much quieter and did not play with toys, or with the other children. She almost seemed more mature, like an adult, and I wondered what kind of experiences had shaped this Mariposa.
We told C we would call her sponsor to explain the corrections on his letter, and have him fax it to us before her court on Friday…
To be continued…