Day Two in Dilley, Texas is complete. As of this morning, we are no longer newbies. We are able to hit the ground running as soon as we arrive at the South Texas Family Residential Center. We don’t have to ask where we should be or what we should be doing. With each hour that passes we better understand each step of the process that every woman and her children are going to go through during their time here. We better understand the conditions in the countries where these families are coming from, and we are quickly learning how we can best help each of these asylum seekers throughout this process.
Today, my partner Charles and I worked with several women to prepare them for the first step in the asylum process, the credible fear interview. During these interviews, it is our responsibility to talk with the women to understand if their experiences and their stories will meet the requirements of credible fear that will allow them to continue in the asylum process. The interviews can last anywhere from thirty minutes to over three hours. We give every woman and her children the opportunity and time they need to tell us their stories. These interviews often result in the women telling us about the most horrific events of their lives—cases of domestic violence, incidents of gang violence, threats against their lives and those of their loved ones—and their worst fears of why they cannot return to their home countries. Their stories cannot be rushed. The women recount these tragedies with tears rolling down their faces, often in front of their children. As volunteers at the detention center, we are not permitted to touch the women or children beyond a handshake, so we are unable to comfort the women with an understanding or reassuring touch. Instead, this form of comfort is often left to their children to give their mothers while we talk. These children are understanding and compassionate beyond their years, wiping away their mother’s tears, stroking her arm, or encouraging them as they tell their story.
Sometimes, too, as part of the preparation of the credible fear interview we will speak to the children without their mothers in the room with them. Most children we have spoken with have an acute awareness of the circumstances they are fleeing and why they are seeking refuge in the United States. It’s striking to hear stories of the persecution that these children have experienced in their own words and voices. Many children, often no more than ten years old, have told us about their personal experiences of persecution in their home countries that they hadn’t told their mothers of for no other reason than to protect them and to keep them from worrying.
Despite the tragedies and challenges that these families confront, along with the realities of being detained, the children remain a source of joy and hope. These children have experienced challenges and carry the weight of tragedy beyond their years, often violence that no person should have to endure, let alone a child. Yet, they remain children.
Outside of the client meeting rooms where we conduct the credible fear interview preparation, there is an almost constant stream of children playing in the waiting room. They run, they chase one another, they color. They are resilient and find joy, even in detention. Their smiles, full of hope for a future free of persecution, are a reminder of why we are here helping.
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.