The Work Begins by Charles T.

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Today was the first day we woke up in Dilley. After an exciting evening of air travel and midnight grocery shopping, we arrived at the Days Inn on the side of the highway where we will be staying for the week. Even though we’re in South Texas, the nights are still quite cold!

After a brief training session in the early morning, we headed to the South Texas Family Residential Center for the first time. This is the facility where women and children seeking asylum in the United States are detained while they await adjudication of their claims, and the place where we do nearly all of our work.

Our main task for the first day was to prepare applicants for their “credible fear interview” with an asylum officer. Simply put, we listen carefully to each applicant’s story and help them to tell it as effectively as possible. Each story is unique, but all have survived persecution in their home countries. Some have been targeted by ruthless street gangs, including the widely known MS-13 gang. Others are survivors of domestic violence and spousal abuse. Many have suffered threats to their lives and the lives of their children. Still, they recount their stories with cool resolve and relentless courage.

Listening to an applicant’s story is only half the job. The role of the advocate is to figure out how that story fits into the legal framework set out by Congress. This involves probing into the narrative for key facts related to the types of harm an applicant has suffered and the reasons she suffered that harm. Once we gather the information we need, we help the applicant to understand the parts of their story that are most important for their legal claim. After we feel a client is prepared for their interviewed, we say our goodbyes and move on to the next in the queue.

On a practical level, it took some time to adjust to the work space. Our facility contains one large open room where the women and their children sit to await interview prep. About ten small offices surround the larger room; these smaller offices are where interviews take place. Often, volunteers need to be quick on their feet to attend to the needs of clients and to ensure the space is being used as effectively as possible.

As I look back on the first day, I don’t know if I’ve fully processed everything I’ve seen and heard. The client stories are still rattling around in my brain. I mentally replay parts of the interview, considering what worked, what didn’t work, and how we’ll move forward. There’s a lot to think about for the week ahead of us, and while there are still many uncertainties in this journey, I think we had an excellent start!


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If you would like to keep up with our time in Dilley, check back regularly as we will be posting daily.