By Jaco Roesch
In the summer of 2014, in response to a rapid and significant rise in the number of migrants crossing the U.S.-Mexico border, the Obama administration opened a new immigrant detention center in Artesia, New Mexico. The people detained in this facility — women and children fleeing violence and persecution in their home countries and requesting asylum in the United States — were among the first to experience what has become a fixture of the American immigration system: family detention.
Ostensibly intended as a deterrent to a so-called “surge” of migrants entering the U.S., opponents immediately criticized family detention as cruel, unnecessary, and potentially in violation of domestic and international law. Amid a public outcry and a flurry of legal challenges, the Artesia facility was closed down by the end of the year.
But victory for immigrants’ rights advocates was fleeting, and no sooner had the Artesia detention center’s doors been shuttered than two more facilities were opened in the South Texas towns of Dilley and Karnes, with the capacity to detain up to 3,500 women and children at a time. Since then, tens of thousands of people have been detained in these privately-run, for-profit prisons.
Over winter break, I spent some time in the Dilley detention center — officially called the South Texas Family Residential Center — with a volunteer-driven legal advocacy organization called the CARA Pro Bono Project. The project provides legal advocacy services to the women being held in detention, primarily by helping them prepare for their initial interview with a United States Citizenship and Immigration Services officer. This interview is extremely important for the women, as it will determine whether they will be allowed into the country to pursue their legal right to petition for asylum, or be deported back to their home countries, back to the dangers from which they’ve fled.
Through interviews with CARA staff members and volunteers, this podcast explores the nature of family detention, the people it harms, and the forces and motives that perpetuate this system.
For more information about family detention, the CARA Pro Bono Project, or how you can get involved as a volunteer, please visit www.caraprobono.org.
Jaco Roesch is a Master of Public Policy Candidate at the Goldman School of Public Policy. Before coming to graduate school, he spent nearly three years working on migrant education in Thailand.