Detention and Immigration Law

    By Olivia O’Brien and Zoe Sipe

    Throughout the summer of 2021, I, alongside my co-leader, Alexandra Burns (‘21.5) led a cohort of four Middlebury College students in remote immigrant advocacy internships with the Rocky Mountain Immigrant Advocacy Network (RMIAN), Las Americas Immigrant Advocacy Center, and Capital Area Immigrant Rights Coalition (CAIR) based in Westminster, Colorado, El Paso, Texas, and Washington, DC respectively. Through these internships, our cohort worked alongside Pro Bono attorneys to connect detained immigrants, largely from Central America, Mexico, and Haiti, with legal support and resources. I interviewed Damaris Neaves (‘24), Alejandro Castillo (‘24), and Kate Goodman (‘24) to learn more about their experiences and takeaways. 

    Working in Direct Service: Translations, Intakes, and Screening Calls

    •  Damaris: “What we focused on was direct service, so that could include translations, that could include working the hotline with CAIR Coalition specifically. Working alongside attorneys and helping with their cases in terms of gathering evidence. With Las Americas and RMIAN we were involved in doing intakes, and any direct service work we could help the team with.”
    • Damaris: “When someone is detained or in immigrant detention, they have to complete an intake form so that either private attorneys or Pro Bono attorneys can assess their case and determine whether they qualify for parole or bond or another form of release, so in that process there is a number of questions that the person has to ask the detained person and get all that info.”
    • Kate: “We would also have hours long conversations just getting the entire in depth stories of the migrant so that the attorneys, who are already overworked don’t have to do that themselves and can just look at a file and assess the case from a distance before knowing what to offer.”

    Calling Into Detention

    • Damaris: “The software or the website we would use to make our calls would often get disconnected. The calls would often drop, and the quality was also very bad, so for an hour, you would be repeating the same questions over and over again, trying to figure out the response. And on top of that being in a different language, like I was speaking in Spanish, so I often had to decipher muffled words. That was one of the biggest frustrations—the system and the phones used in these facilities.”
    • Damaris: “Calling in at a specific time and having certain officers answer very begrudgingly or always keeping you on hold for a ludicrous amount of time when you really needed to make a 5 minute phone call, transferring your calls back and forth between centers or wings of the facility. So there were two main things.”
    • Kate: “The 3CX system we were supposed to use didn’t always work for me, so I would prefer to dial in directly from my phone. But the migrants could only have a 10 minute call that they could dial in, so it would be really hard when you were trying to have a 90 minute conversation that got hung up so much, while you had an interpreter part of the conversation too.”
    • Alejandro: “It was also sort of important learning about the legal side of it too. The ways in which these people are caged up, and the ways in which it kind of violates some of their rights. And the ways in which within the detention center itself they are treated very brutally. They are deprived of a lot of things and especially in the age of COVID, I think it kind of illuminates pretty much the lives of these people, and how they have become commodified, because a lot of these detention centers make money out of basically keeping themselves full. 

    An Intimate Perspective

    • Alejandro: “I also learned about how some people were not getting access to adequate food or being deprived of information from the outside, which I thought was really shocking. I remember this one time I was talking to an individual, and I think they had mentioned that they had gone for like 6 months without knowing anything about the outside world for like 6 months. And I just couldn’t imagine going through that myself. It was also very important because it didn’t allow him to learn about developments in his case as well, and that also seemed to me very unfair. And so when I think about the whole detention center apparatus and now being in an immigration studies class this semester, it has really helped inform my perspective on what these centers are, how they operate, and honestly the trauma that they leave on the people that go through them.”
    • Damaris: “In terms of like frustrations, like my emotional frustrations, just how close we were to hearing these very real stories and lives we were hearing about. With RMIAN we worked with specific cases, and one of the cases I got to work with was very difficult to hear, the trauma that the person was experiencing and continuing to experience was very heavy on me and yeah that was a different experience.”
    • Kate: “Doing intakes, you could see whose case qualified, not like giving a judgement if you personally think they qualify for asylum, but based on the law, like the five arguments of persecution that you have to prove, I could kind of start to see myself if someone’s case was going to be accepted, or if they would fail their fear hearing. Just based on their story.”

    From A to B: Final ThoughtsDamaris: “This experience has also made me very conscious of a reality that I think most people do not know exists. I mean immigration is a hot topic and generally discussed in the news but being so close and actually seeing how the process works, it’s really daunting, it has definitely made me more aware of what’s really going on in the facilities and what goes on with our government systems and I think I’m now in a place where I’m not so much focused on immigrant detention but now the steps that come after that. So with COMPAS, a branch of JUNTOS, an organization here on campus, we really strive to teach ESL to migrants in this area, and so they’ve already completed their part of their journey, like coming into the United States, so now we want to help them live a dignified life, whatever that means for them, and so one of the ways is through English lessons. And so I think also continuing that part of the process, is where I will apply what I have learned in the future.”

    By Olivia O’Brien and Zoe Sipe Throughout the summer of 2021, I, alongside my co-leader, Alexandra Burns (‘21.5) led a cohort of four Middlebury College students in remote immigrant advocacy internships with the Rocky Mountain Immigrant Advocacy Network (RMIAN), Las Americas Immigrant Advocacy Center, and Capital Area Immigrant Rights Coalition (CAIR) based in Westminster, Colorado,…

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