by Teresa Watson
Editor’s Note: We’re pleased to bring you this series by one of our #MSW students about her volunteer work during the 2018-19 winter intersession. Comments are welcome!
Hello, readers – I’m Teresa! It’s nice to meet you. I’m an advanced-year MSW student, a Graduate Assistant for the Global Interest Group in the University at Buffalo School of Social Work, and a volunteer with Justice for Migrant Families in Western New York. I’m part of a team of law and social work students who are spending this week at the South Texas Family Detention Center in Dilley, Texas, assisting asylum seekers.
I hope these daily accounts (there will be a week’s worth of posts) will give you a picture of what asylum seekers encounter at the southern border.
To prepare, the law students completed two weeks of intensive study in refugee and asylum law, three hours a day, four days a week. I attended half of these classes, and studied independently to gain more knowledge about social work, trauma and working with refugees. I also adapted a presentation by Katie McClain-Meeder, MSW, and led a class on trauma and vicarious trauma in crisis work for the law students.
On our way
Right now it is 6 PM on Sunday, January 20th, 2019, and I am on a plane with five JD students, one JD/MSW student and one PhD Candidate in the Romance Languages. We are headed to Dilley, Texas, as a volunteer team with UB Law Professor Nicole Hallett, who directs the U.S.-Mexico Border Clinic, attorney Carey who practices immigration law, and clinical social worker(MSW) Maria, from Rochester, New York.
In Dilley, we will be working with asylum seekers from various countries who have been detained at the U.S./Mexico border; our team will be working with women who have children at this particular facility. We will work in pairs, preparing as many women as possible for their initial interviews with US Customs and Border Patrol (CBP) officers. These interviews determine whether they pass the “credible fear” standard, which is the legal standard that says the asylum officer must find at least a 10% chance that their fear of harm — the harm they fear they will face if they return to their home — is “credible” or realistic. If they pass the interview, they become eligible to plead their case in court at a later time and remain in the US to keep them safe from the credible fears they were facing in their prior home.