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After fleeing intense violence and making the dangerous journey to reach the United States border, Central American migrants are treated more like criminals than who they actually are: survivors of trauma pursuing their legal right to seek asylum.
The Obama administration decided to open new family detention centers in 2014. Since then, U.S. immigration officials have been locking up asylum-seeking families in prison-like, for-profit family detention centers—despite multiple court rulings against the practice, and reports documenting inhumane conditions and damaging mental health impacts.
Rosemary Dodd, a Spanish and Political Science student at Wellesley College, wanted to help support detained families who were facing a convoluted asylum system without legal assistance. Passionate about immigration justice and eager to put her Spanish language skills to work, Rosemary interned at the Refugee and Immigrant Center for Education and Legal Services (RAICES). As a UUSC migrant justice partner based in San Antonio, Texas, RAICES provides free legal help and translation services to the women and children held in Karnes County Residential Center, one of three for-profit detention centers in the U.S. that detains families, including very young children.
One of Rosemary’s primary tasks as a RAICES intern was to prepare women for their Credible Fear Interviews, during which they explain why they fled and why they could not seek protection within their home country—a critical hurdle they must overcome before they can begin the asylum process. Sitting down with Rosemary and RAICES for this preparation was often the first time migrant women heard the words “we are here to help” after reaching U.S. border patrol, being moved between multiple holding cells, and being detained at Karnes. And these are not just words. With Rosemary and RAICES’ help, a far greater number of women passed their interviews—recounting experiences such as kidnapping threats and gang violence—and were released from detention. As a result of RAICES’ support, rates of approval of Credible Fear Interviews at Karnes rose from around 30% to over 90%.
Rosemary shares, “I think family detention is something you hear about, and you can’t believe corporations are profiting from it—but being there, meeting the children, and playing with the kids, you get this huge amount of steadfast knowledge. I left San Antonio with a new commitment to protecting refugees, to ending family detention for good, and to working for justice in whichever form.”
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