We Need Advocates at Every Stage by Leighann R.

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There is no doubt in my mind that we have a broken immigration system that is in dire need of reform. However, there are also rays of light that remind me how important advocates in making the process less grueling and more humane for the people subjected to it. Today, while I accompanied a client to her credible fear interview (CFI), I was reminded that humanity and empathy do exist in this system, and that it can make all the difference.

Generally, there is not enough capacity to have a legal representative or attorney accompany every woman to their CFI in Dilley. People who are accompanied have been flagged by CARA as people who will greatly benefit from having a legal representative present. This can be because the client is extremely nervous due to their past trauma or because they need someone to advocate actively for the client’s rights throughout the interview. In Dilley, if the child is over the age of 11, an asylum officer may question them at this stage as well.

When doing CFI preps my partner and I do brief simulation interviews at the very end, and send them off the client hoping for the best. From my past experiences, I know that asylum officers are a mixed bag. You don’t know what their mood will be during the CFI, what their preconceived notions may be, whether they have every intention to discredit your client, or if they will ask re-traumatizing lines of questioning. It is normal for the detainees to be nervous during the interview, because it will decide whether they can continue on in the process to seek asylum.

This morning I was asked to join a client on a CFI and was briefed on the client’s story by one of the CARA paralegals. She had taken a special interest in the case and told me that the client is very sweet, and that she has a son who is extremely traumatized as result of what happened in their home country. The paralegal advocated for the client’s son via email prior to the CFI, explaining that the son had severe trauma and that is was preferred that he not be questioned. Mom said that since they arrived to the facility, her son has been unable to sleep on his own and cries every night. Upon meeting her son, within minutes I was able to see his fear. He barely made eye contact, his head was lowered, and he looked at the floor hunched over as we did a quick check-in prior to their CFI.

It was clear that the CFI could re-traumatize him. However, it was the asylum officer’s decision whether to question him. This fear quickly faded when we met the officer and he told us he was just going to ask the son bar questions and let him go to avoid further traumatization. He proceeded to tell the client in Spanish that she should not be scared, that she did not come this far to be sent back, and to just say her truth. Throughout the interview, both the asylum officer and I asked the interpreter to rephrase questions, in order for the client to best express herself. The client got emotional and the officer comforted her. At the end, the client was so grateful for the patience of the officer that she leaped and hugged him in tears. The officer hugged her back, and told her not to worry that she is here now and that her and her son are safe.

Both the client and I left the CFI at ease. Afterwards, I drafted an email asking that she not be required to wear an ankle monitor in the event she is released. The same paralegal helped me file and fill out consent forms as evidence. I also provided her with a list of pro-bono attorneys I generated from the state where she may relocate to prepare for next steps. This experience reassured me that despite our broken system, some people genuinely care enough to go the extra mile to make this process go smoother for our clients. It was very evident that the people the clients come across in this process make all the difference.

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.

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