by Teresa Watson
Editor’s note: This is the fifth in a series of posts from a MSW student who is volunteering with the University at Buffalo Law School US-Mexico Border Clinic , assisting women and children seeking asylum, in a detention center in Dilley, Texas. Look for previous posts at https://socialworksynergy.org .
January 25, 2019
I really thought I was going to make it through the week without crying, but I was wrong. Today I had my breakdown.
It was in the last 3 hours of my time here. Leighann Ramirez, the JD/MSW Student and wonderful person who roomed with me for this trip, estimated we gave over 80 hours of labor, including meetings and time spent transcribing our notes into the system (for the Pro Bono Project in Dilley) in our hotel rooms each night, as well as with all the clients seen during the day.
I hadn’t had lunch, or a chance to take one, until 4:30 pm. We had so many cases today: women whose stories were truly horrifying but who didn’t experience persecution as a result of their belonging to an recognized social group, or who needed to reach family that could remember details for their claim, or whose complicated life stories just took a long, long time to tell. The Pro Bono staff (part of the American Immigration Lawyers Association) told us that we had been averaging 65 prep interviews a day; today, we had to get through 78 because the clients have credible fear interviews on Saturdays AND Mondays. It was overwhelming.
Sarah, a law student with our team, joked that I had tears for lunch. She’s not wrong.
Gender just doesn’t count
I love the idea that we don’t give up on any of these women. I love the hope that they can all prove that their fear of returning is credible (remember, that’s a 10% likelihood that their fear for their safety or their children’s safety is valid), I love their hope for their kids, I love that they trust us enough to let us help them, but I hate this system. I hate the requirement that we help them find a “nexus”, which is when a particular social group they belong to was the basis for their experience of persecution. “Particular Social Groups” are those that the asylee belongs to and cannot change, such as family, or sexual or gender identity as LGBTQ. The Pro Bono Project says that womanhood, single motherhood, business ownership and poverty are not social groups that generate strong claims in the eyes of the U.S. immigration law as judged by the Fifth Circuit. If MS-13 or B-18 gangs assaulted these women or threatened their lives directly, that claim is unlikely to pass muster unless those who acted to inflict a specific harm to the woman did so because she is a wife or sister of someone who upset them in some way. While family is recognized as a legitimate social group. Unfortunately, we were told that gender is not generally accepted by the Asylum Officers in Dilley.
I feel worn down by these legal hoops. The women can prove they are in grave danger; they show us their scars, physical and emotional, thinking that the law will understand this, and it doesn’t. It just. . . . doesn’t.
(Watch for the sixth blog post, “Coming Home” – coming soon!)
Editor’s note: Here is a link to the UB Law School’s blog, “US-Mexico Border Clinic,” with entries by law students. Here are just two of the titles: “One Shot to Tell Their Story,” and “Espero, Pero Tengo Mis Dudas (I hope, but I have my doubts).” https://ublawresponds.com/tag/us-mexico-border-clinic/
Teresa Watson is in her second year as an Advanced Standing MSW student and will graduate in May 2019.
Photo of the students in the UB-Mexico Border Clinic group, courtesy of the author.