I'm leaving Dilley, Texas where I've been volunteering with the CARA project this week. Each day, there were over 100 women with children who had endured a journey toward a most uncertainly secure future.
What do I mean by "uncertainly secure?" It's when you run toward parts unknown because it has to be better than where you are.
As I try to process dealing with just a few days of wave after wave of desperate humanity, I've got to recognize some people. That's the "on the ground" (OTG) team (lawyers and others) who up and moved to Dilley to provide counsel to the thousands of people arriving every day. They do this every single day, arriving at Baby Jail before 8 am, working 12 hour days there, and then back to the ranch where they work on into the night. They've built a lean, mean, legal machine to give these women a chance to reunite with their families. And maybe, in the sobbing words of a ten-year-old detainee I spoke to, just "go to school" and not have to hear older classmates ask each other, "You MS-13 or Mara 18?"
Working with selfless people is humbling and inspirational. This work is exhausting and I can't imagine many be able to last as they do. Listen to what I'm saying: There are young people who willingly give up a comfortable life and utilize their degrees and experience 18 hours a day to help people who wouldn't otherwise stand a chance. Relying on volunteer labor, they help these women - every day - explaining the system, helping them complete the forms, working with ICE, the Asylum Office, and the Correctional Corporation of America (the private company that runs the 2,400 inmate facility). They empower them to tell their own stories, believing in them, and then scour statutes, regulations and case law to fashion razor-sharp legal arguments capable of cutting through the tangled web of asylum law and for-profit detention.
The majority of these women pass their interviews and are granted a chance to apply for asylum, escaping the violence of their home countries, and begin to develop a sense of self-worth. The multi-year battle's just beginning for them, but what they lack in knowledge they more than make up for in grit and determination. The OTG team's work makes real, palpable difference in the lives of thousands of people.
They ask for nothing in return. Nothing.
What an inspiration it was to work for them, and *be* the welcoming America that makes our country great. So many people don't know these everyday heroes and visionaries making a serious dent in the evil practice of family detention. They deserve the best wherever they go. We volunteer lawyers are privileged to have crossed paths with them.
Like my colleagues at the immigration bar, I hear a lot of depressing stories. It's a defense mechanism, I suppose, to not empathize after you've heard dozens, if not hundreds, of such stories. But sometimes, as one of my colleagues put it, there's a fleeting moment when you feel some facsimile of the horror your client felt, and it puts it into perspective. Lawyers obviously have to be objective - but we can't lose our humanity in the process. The trick is to use that empathy as fuel for constructing a winning argument.
This happened to me recently on two asylum cases from Syria.