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This article is written by one of our volunteer attorneys who visited a family detention center in Karnes, TX:  

Last month, I spent a week in San Antonio, Texas, traveling to the euphemistically named Karnes County Residential Center. What I learned in the week I was there was that there is an astounding need for legal assistance, that legal assistance is hugely beneficial, and that family detention must end.


Karnes County Residential Center

Outside the detention center

Legal assistance is imperative. Without counsel, the only information these women have access to is a hotline where they can call and find out the date of their next hearing. They often didn’t know whether the hearing was a final merits determination—the crucial hearing in their case—or merely a calendar hearing for scheduling. Most of the women and children did not speak English, and translators at the hearings only translate questions to the detainee and their responses, not the entire proceeding. This leaves unrepresented women and children totally lost as to the outcome of proceedings.

Most of the women we met with had already passed a Credible Fear Interview, meaning that there is a significant possibility they will be granted asylum. However, many were denied bond or were granted bonds as high as $25,000—so high that they could not pay and remained with their children in detention. Recently, a federal court granted a preliminary injunction to halt the policy of detaining such women and children for deterrence. However, there are still many children, including unaccompanied children, who lack any legal counsel. Without counsel, these women and children have very little chance at obtaining asylum (STATS). Perhaps more pressing, the women and children in detention also have very low changes of being granted bond without legal counsel. Bond allows them to leave detention until their final merits determination. If more of these detained women are granted a reasonable bond, children will spend less time behind bars. It doesn’t take a child psychologist to figure out that keeping children detained for months is harmful, especially when unnecessary and because of no wrong-doing on their part. In fact, all of the women and children professional evaluated through the AILA Pro Bono project presented with symptoms of depression or trauma, eighty-eight percent were diagnosed with PTSD, and several children engaged in self-harm and displayed erratic behaviors. However, with even limited representation, the women and children going through this process can better understand what is happening with their cases, have a much better chance at receiving a reasonable bond, and will have at least one person who will hear their story.

The part that stood out the most to me was that these children are the collateral damage of failed immigration policies and political maneuvering. When you see a three year old in a place that looks , feels, and is run like a jail, the politics don’t matter—or at least they shouldn’t. When these families could simply be released on bond, perhaps even with women wearing ankle monitors (), for much less the financial and human cost, it is hard to understand why children are put in jails for immigration violations. Children should be out playing, learning to ride bikes, having fun with friends. They shouldn’t be behind bars. And they certainly shouldn’t be behind bars without any representation. While the patent injustice of the harm done to children in the name of politics was utterly overwhelming, legal representation can make a huge difference.