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Tuesday
Nov112014

Women and Children in Artesia, NM Need Your Help

I recently returned from Artesia, New Mexico where for one week I, along with a group of nine other volunteer immigration attorneys, represented women and children from Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras being detained by Immigration and Customs Enforcement ("ICE") at a makeshift detention center.  We witnessed hundreds of refugees being held against their will because our government believes they are somehow a risk to national security. We met daily with these mothers and their small children in a trailer on the detention center's campus. In that time, we came to know their stories-- why and how they risked their lives to make the harrowing journey to the United States. They had all hoped to find some semblance of law and order and the protection their own governments could not offer them, but instead were treated like enemies of the state.

After days of being forced to sleep on cold floors in freezing temperatures at holding centers nicknamed "hieleras," or freezers, some found the detention center constructed out of trailers on the Federal Law Enforcement Training Center ("FLETC") property in Artesia, New Mexico, to be an upgrade. But after three or four months of living in a restricted environment with their small children (averaging around 4 years old), I saw many women on the verge of hopelessness.

A refugee's right to be protected against forcible return, or refoulement, is set out in the 1951 Convention relating to the Status of Refugees:

"No Contracting State shall expel or return ('refouler') a refugee in any manner whatsoever to the frontiers of territories where his life or freedom would be threatened on account of his race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social or political opinion" (Article 33(1)).

The United States of America signed the 1967 Refugee Protocol, which removed the geographical and temporal limitations of the 1951 Convention, and ratified it into law in 1968. As such, our government cannot send these women and children back to their countries if their lives or freedom are in danger. It is our duty to protect them, and if we do not, this will forever be a great stain on our nation's history.

As groups of volunteer attorneys from all over the country began flying into Albuquerque, New Mexico and driving four hours south to Artesia to represent these detainees, a large shift began to take shape. Instead of hundreds of deportations and hardly any releases from custody on bond between July and September, there were just 17 deportations in October, and hundreds of women and their children were released on bond in the same month.

One of my young detained clients, a 6-year-old from Guatemala, drew this picture for me:

The artist is not a threat to national security, and neither is her mom. They deserve to be released from custody so they can find an attorney to help them prepare and present their asylum case before an Immigration Judge. Our government is denying them basic due process, and we cannot let this go on any longer. 

While many advocates are working hard to shut down detention centers like the one in Artesia, New Mexico, the government continues to build more like it, such as the massive facilities in Dilley and Karnes City, Texas. In the face of this great injustice, these women and children need representation.

We are raising money to send more attorneys that are willing to step away from their busy practices for a week and fly to the middle of nowhere so we can show these women and their children that we do respect the law in the United States, and that they have a right to present their cases.

If you feel moved to donate to this cause, please go to our fundraising page. I can tell you from first hand experience that your contribution will make a tremendous difference.

 

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