As Buffalo digs out of the snow, a group of eight University at Buffalo students and I are on our way to Dilley, Texas to spend a week at the South Texas Family Detention Center representing women and children who have come to the United States seeking asylum. You may have heard President Trump talk about the border crisis, and indeed there is a crisis here, though not the one he thinks. It is a human rights crisis of our own making – women and children as young as one year old, who are a danger to no one and who are here because they are escaping terrible violence in their home countries, are detained like criminals in trailers surrounded by barbed wire in the middle of the desert.
Our jobs this week will be to make sure that they at least have a fair shot at applying for asylum in the United States. As you might imagine, most have no familiarity with the U.S. legal system. Many are victims of unspeakable traumas that they suffered in their home countries or on the trip north. They have one shot to tell their story to an asylum officer at something called a “credible fear interview.” If they pass this interview, they will most likely be released into the United States and given a court date at which they will be able to apply for asylum. If they fail the interview, they will be at risk of imminent deportation back to the danger they fled. We will be explaining the process to them and helping prepare them to tell their story at the interview. For many, we will be the first people they speak to in the United States who are actually prepared to listen to them.
The students and I have been preparing for this work for weeks. During our two-week short course at UB, the students learned about asylum law and the immigration detention system. They also practiced the work they we will be doing in a series of simulations focused on interviewing, legal writing, and oral advocacy. Asylum law is complex and counterintuitive, even for lawyers and law students, let alone asylum seekers. Moreover, the law is in a state of constant flux as the Trump Administration makes move after move to try to limit the right to seek asylum in the United States. After all preparation we have done, I am confident our team is ready to hit the ground running.
Conditions on the ground often change quickly, and none of know what we will find when we arrive at the detention center tomorrow at 7:30 am to start our first day of work. But whatever happens, we will let you, our supporters, know on this blog. Watch this space for daily updates about our trip.
Due to the unforeseen weather delays, we are in hoping to raise a little extra money to cover the cost of the many flights (4!) that were cancelled and rebooked. If you are interested in donating to the trip, please visit our Crowdfunding page.