As they sat down to meet with one of our attorneys, their hands naturally rested on the table, touching each other. While it was apparent that the father was very concerned for his son, the child also expressed how worried he was about his elderly father being detained for so long. We came to learn that this father and son had not only already been detained for four months, but they were separated during that entire time. The son was taken away from his father without the opportunity to even tell his father goodbye. It had only been about 12 hours since they had been reunited and transferred to Karnes. For four months, they prayed for each other, they worried about each other, and they were only able to speak to each other on the phone three times. And while being detained together now is a small relief for them, the harsh reality is that they still have not been scheduled for their credible fear interview.
When people first arrive at the U.S. border seeking protection from life-threatening danger that their own governments are unable or unwilling to control, they are entitled to a credible fear interview. A credible fear interview gives asylum-seekers an opportunity to explain to an asylum officer why they are afraid of returning to the country from which they are fleeing. Those who satisfactorily answer the officer’s questions during this interview are permitted to temporarily enter the United States so that they may wait for an immigration judge to hear their asylum claim. Those who receive an unfavorable determination are entitled to have an immigration judge review the decision no later than 7 days after the asylum officer's initial determination.
The fathers detained at the Karnes family detention center can be at any stage of this process. Some are waiting for their credible fear interview, some are waiting for an immigration judge to review an unfavorable determination, some are waiting to be released after a favorable determination, and some are waiting to be deported. It is very common for detainees to wait weeks or even months for the next step in their case. Today, we met with fathers that had been waiting at Karnes for 2 months without having received their credible fear interview. We had to reassure another frustrated father, who had already been waiting one month for his immigration judge review (much longer than the 7 days required of the government), that we would do everything in our power to move his case along.
The feelings of helplessness, fatigue, and desperation that grow with each passing day in detention are enough to cause many individuals to consider stop fighting their case and accept deportation. Most fathers cannot bear to watch their children suffer alongside them in detention -- or, for some, cannot bear to sit in detention while waiting to be reunited with their children. We counseled one man who was weighing whether he should simply accept his deportation back to a country where many of his family members have already been killed, a fate he and his son could also suffer if they went back. "Me dicen que voy a estar esperando aquí por una eternidad" ("They tell me I will be waiting here for an eternity"), he told us. Another man, one who had already accepted deportation rather than wait indefinitely for each next step of his case, told us he had already been waiting in Karnes for nearly one month simply for the government to deport him.
It is a cruel irony that these fathers escape severely traumatizing circumstances, confronting extreme risk and accepting significant sacrifices to make the dangerous journey to the United States, only for our immigration system to continue their traumatization through indefinite detention when they arrive. The United States forces asylum-seekers and their children to languish in jail indefinitely as they wait for what can feel like an eternity for each next step of their case. Detention is one of the most coercive tools of our country's deportation machine, one that can be far more powerful than any legal brief or argument an ICE trial attorney could present in court to achieve a person's deportation.
Meet the Team reporting from Texas at our upcoming Luchando Por Justicia event on September 27, 2018 from 5:30PM to 7:30PM at Studio 817 in midtown Sacramento.