Category Archives: international

Social Work and Human Rights: Report from My Study Abroad – Part II

by Kristen Hibit

Editor’s Note: This is the second of a series of two blog posts by University of Buffalo School of Social Work MSW student Kristen Hibit, reporting on her recent study abroad with Dr. Elisabeth Reichert’s Global Seminar on Social Work and Human Rights, based in Munich, Germany. The link to Kristen’s first part is here: 

All photos below are courtesy of the author.


Day 4-

Today’s focus was around women’s issues and mental illness by visiting Frauren Therapie Zentrum (Women’s Therapy Center). During the 1970’s, like the US, Germany experienced a psychiatric movement to give more rights to people with mental illness. Within this movement Frauren Therapie Zentrum was born and has been serving the community for over 40 years. They apply feminist, trauma and empowerment theory not only in their approach with their clients but also within their organizational culture. Many of their clients are immigrants and have suffered from traumatic experiences. They provide direct services to women and children and also demonstrate a commitment to politics through advocacy and policy efforts. They have trained and worked with other agencies to systematically identify trauma and abuse by administering appropriate questions to women in hospitals, doctors’ offices etc. They receive their funding through the City of Munich government and regularly meet with the government to report services and discuss collective goals.


Sunny room with wicker chairs, small tables, a plant in front of a window, and a rack with pamphlets. An abstract painting is hung on the wall.

Frauren Therapie Zentrum (Women’s Therapy Center), Munich.

Their services include:

  • Counseling for people with psychosocial and psychosomatic issues through individual and group sessions
  • Counseling for women who have been violent to their domestic partner
  • Counseling, case management and crisis intervention for women with mental health issues, specializing in immigrants and mothers
  • Occupational therapy: training to improve concentration, endurance, self-assertiveness, cooperation and relaxation
  • Day care center for women with mental health problems for socialization and empowerment
  • Outpatient social and health services for women with substance abuse through counseling, case management and reintegration
  • Provide training to professionals in the mental health field


I was very impressed with the array of comprehensive services that Frauren Therapie Zentrum offers to support women with mental health issues. Their strong relationship with the City of Munich government seems to allow them to provide consistent services and their long history in serving women creates strong reputation within the community. Their integration of occupational therapy and work with other agencies demonstrates the importance and effectiveness of interprofessional collaboration and approaches to specific issues and in serving clients.



Day 5-

We took a tour of Dachau Concentration Camp, one of the first Nazi concentration camps, that opened in 1933. I was not sure how I would feel visiting a site where such horrible human rights violations occurred—genocide, torture, exploitation. I was interested to learn more about the Nazi regime especially from a German perspective. In order to truly honor human rights, we must understand and learn from our history which is why this visit was so important. You can of course find much historical information on the Dachau Concentration Camp, but what I most wanted to share with you are the interesting facts shared by our tour guide.

A guide stands speaking to a small group of people in front of descriptive sign in Dachau Concentration Camp.

Dachau Concentration Camp, May 2019.

In the beginning days of Dachau, politicians were among the first prisoners. There was no plan during the first days, so prisoners were first stripped of their clothes and belongings and assigned to hard, physical labor that had no real purpose. Prisoners were told that work would set them free: “Arbeit befreit dich.”


Row of low grey buildings - barracks- set back from a large graveled yard. Poplar trees rise behind the barracks.

Dachau Concentration Camp. May 2019.

The first barracks housed 2,000 people with 2,000 beds. During the last days before its liberation in 1945, there were no beds. Over 206,000 people came to Dachau from over 40 nations. As the regime continued to bring prisoners to Dachau, more populations entered the camp and were labeled—Jews, people in interracial populations, people with disabilities, homosexuals etc.


What I found most disturbing about the entire visit was the cremation area. The cremation area was separate from the main camp. Mass extermination began when the camp got more and more over crowded. Prisoners were assigned to the cremation area and were responsible for cremating other prisoners. These areas were separated so that there was no communication between these prisoners to find out about the mass exterminations.


The citizens of Dachau knew about the camp as prisoners arrived at the town train station and marched to the camp. Photos of healthy, newly arrived prisoners were released by the Nazis to show that the people were in good care—the power of propaganda. Even the Red Cross was called to the camp and released reports that conditions were fair. The Red Cross has since admitted knowing about the Holocaust and claimed responsibility for their silence. This demonstrates the fear and control that the Nazi party had on individuals and organizations. Many other companies supported the Nazi party during this time. Hugo Boss created Nazi uniforms; Mercedes and BMW created machinery. I especially appreciated learning this information as I am interested in ethical supply chains. To this day, BMW is one of the largest companies that has not paid reparations to survivors.

A major part of human rights is being able to say something or do something when something is not right. We learned about the brave people of Dachau who tried to seek justice and assist prisoners through small acts. We can credit the few citizens of Dachau who were able to sneak food to prisoners at parts of prison walls, the prisoners who snuck photos of the camp to expose the true conditions, the prisoner who built a radio to learn , the prisoners who tried to escape and the people who immigrated to the US and shared their knowledge.


Row of poplar trees on left, with wide graveled sections, divided by concrete curbs.

Dachau Concentration Camp. May 2019.

The entire day was quite heavy. It was painful to hear about the processes of the camp and the horrible actions carried out by the Nazi party. It is completely disheartening that humans are capable of treating other humans in such a cruel capacity. Power can be quite dangerous and we need to understand who holds power and what that means for others. We must never forget what we have learned from Dachau. We must remember that when we are in our own communities and see something that is not right, not matter how small or large, we must say something to truly uphold human rights.


After we returned to Munich, my roommate Kayla and I headed to Olympiapark, which housed the 1972 Olympics, to process everything we learned and felt from our day at Dachau. I am being more conscious about my own self-care. Self-care includes allowing yourself time to process information and feelings. I am glad we did so in such a beautiful space in Munich!

View in Olympia Park Munich: A huge tree backlit by sun, wiht green field and sunny sky. f

Olympia Park, Munich: Suited for Self-care.










Day 6-

We took a day trip to Nuremberg by train to visit the Documentation Center Nazi Party Rally Grounds (Propaganda Museum) and Nuremberg Court House where the Nuremburg trails took place. Unfortunately, the Documentation Center did not have English information headsets available at the time of our visit, so we were not able to get the most out of our visit. The Documentation Center focuses on the tactics and media used by the National Socialist to hold rallies and spread information during the dictatorship. The museum is on the grounds where the party held rallies and Hilter gave some of his most famous speeches.

Large brick building curves around oval courtyard.

Documentation Center, Munich, June, 2019.

Posters and photos from Nazi-era Germany from the Documentation Center in Munich.

Posters and photos from Nazi-era Germany from the Documentation Center in Munich.

 We concluded our day at the Memorium Nuremberg Trials and Courthouse. This courtroom is significant in history because it hosted the Nuremberg Trials where leaders of the Nazi regime were tried by the International Military Tribunal. These trials had a major influence on international criminal law and human rights. Twenty-two people and seven organizations were tried on crimes against peace and humanity, forced labor, conspiracy and war crimes—new concepts used in a fair trial.



Courtroom at Nuremberg, with wood paneling and coffered ceilings. Two chandeliers are brightly lit, and a cross hangs ont e wall behind the bench with its five chairs.

Courtroom, Memorium, Nuremberg.

Having just visited Dachau, I could not help but think about the courageous survivors who provided testimony that helped seek justice and the re-traumatization that they must have experienced during that trial period. I really enjoyed my time at the Memorium as I learned a lot about the key players in International Military Tribunal and the international response to such crimes. These trails hold a legacy in an international commitment to human rights and holding states accountable for human rights abuses.


Day 7-

We had a free day to explore Munich or greater Bavaria so I headed to Garmisch-Partenkirchen, a ski village that hosted the 1936 Olympics. If you ever have the opportunity to visit southern Bavaria, you should do so. It was the most breath taking, incredible experiences.

We went up to the top of the highest mountain in Germany, Zugspitze, via train and cable car. WOW is all I can say!

View of snowy mountain peaks repeating to the horizone, with blue sky and clouds hovering over the peaks.

Zugspitze, the highest mountain in Germany.

Flowers are foreground, river streams past houses, mountains seen in distance.

Garmische, June 2019.


We then took a cable car to Eibsee lake and took a boat around the lake for the most gorgeous views.

I am a lover of the outdoors so it was nice to get out of the city and experience beautiful nature. We live in an incredibly beautiful world. I highly recommend visiting this town if you have the opportunity!


Day 8-

 Our entire program took a break from coursework and took a day trip to Salzburg, Austria. This was my first time in Austria making it #27 of my countries visited. We explored the city center and visited Hohensalzburg Fortress, one of the largest medieval fortresses in Europe.

Looking up at the Fortress, built upon a cliff.

The Fortress

View looking down on Salzburg cathedral, in city center.

Salzburg Cathedral.


The top of the fortress offers incredible views of the entire city and the Alps! What a beautiful city between the architecture, clean streets and posh businesses.



Day 9-

On the last day of our program, we visited Adwiga, an agency that assists survivors of human trafficking. I was most interested in visiting this agency because my field placement this year was with Freedom Network USA, a coalition of organizations and individuals who utilize a human right based approach to human trafficking. I was interested in learning how the agency and Germany respond the issue in collaboration with other countries within the EU, especially with the influx of migration from Africa and the Middle East.

We met with Adina, a licensed counselor for Adwiga, who also conducts research at the European Commission. The agency provides counseling and case management services for survivors of human trafficking. They work directly with police, who provide many of their referrals, and also work within refugee camps to screen for human trafficking. Adigwa works closely with the International Organization for Migration and Europole International Investigations on trafficking; most trafficking cases cross boarders within the EU. As in the US, it is difficult to prosecute cases. According to their national report about 800 cases were closed last year. Germany does not incarcerate perpetrators often, but traffickers do owe restitution to survivors, who are entitled to that as well as social benefits and accommodations. Adigwa counselors come from many of the countries that survivors come from, and thus can communicate in the native language of the client, with no need for telephonic interpretation.


members of this huan rights course stand on steps in a partially shaded sunny path.

The group! (Dr. Elisabeth Reichert, far left)


Our group concluded our program with a final discussion on how human rights must be integrated into all levels of service provision and in all industries. We all agreed that although the US had great influence in constructing and upholding human rights, the US needs to improve policies and services provisions to be more accountable.




Stay tuned for a final reflection of the program and being abroad!

hibit photo with salzburg view

Kristen Hibit, Salzburg, Austria, June 2019

Kristen Hibit is a full-time MSW student slated to graduate in May 2020. Kristen currently works as a Immigrant Work Specialist at the New York State Department of Labor, Division of Immigrants Policies and Affairs. She provides workers’ rights education and services to immigrant workers, and labor law compliance education to agricultural businesses. Previously, Kristen worked with refugee populations developing employment services and business partnerships to facilitate and support the hiring of refugees. Kristen recently completed her first placement at Freedom Network USA, a coalition of experts and advocates that utilize a human-rights-based approach to human trafficking. Kristen is focusing on macro social work and is particularly interested in policy work and human rights surrounding immigrant and refugee populations,and how this can be integrated into organizational structures to solve systemic issues.


The Dilley Project: UB Students at the US-Mexico Border – Sixth Post

by Teresa Watson

Editor’s note: This is the sixth and final post in a series from a MSW student who volunteered with the University at Buffalo Law School US-Mexico Border Clinic , assisting women and children seeking asylum, held in a detention center in Dilley, Texas. Look for previous posts at .


us mexico border dry hilly landscape with iron slab fencing interrupted by steep incline

Bill Morrow. 2017. Photo. U.S. Mexico Border. Retrieved from Flikr. Used by permission (CC BY 2.0).


Reflecting on Dilley

I have made this comment in person to many people, but I was very thankful that I wrote this blog and grateful to the UB School of Social Work for editing it and hosting it for me; for about a week after the clinic I had trouble articulating the entirety of the experience into one easy reply, one soundbite that could somehow encapsulate my experiences there, and so I would refer them to the blog instead. Sending someone a link relieved me of a tremendous amount of emotional labor.

I’ve written this final post several times, and I’m never satisfied with it. I find it difficult to capture the facts and feelings of my experiences in Texas, and I get stuck wanting to explain everything, which is impossible; also, I kept thinking that I needed to convey to everyone that I am mentally and emotionally recovered from the trip. I don’t regret putting up the post about the breakdown, since I felt it was important to be honest about what was a normal piece of experience for me – I did not numb myself, while I was there, though the nature of the work would have made that easy to do, and I think that remaining open to the pain of the women’s trauma expedited my recovery time – but I still hope that the readers of this blog won’t worry about me.


Trauma-informed language /
Yo hablo poquito español (when I speak very little Spanish)

spanish english language wordle with numerous terms listed such as "verb" "slang" "speakers"

I wanted to talk about the specifics of translating and trauma-informed language, what it was like to have such basic Spanish in that setting, the difficulties of different dialects, the prevalence of domestic violence, and how thankful I was to the crisis agency I previously worked for, and how sad I was that the dynamics of power and control are ubiquitous across cultures. I wanted to talk about being a social worker among (pretty fantastic social-justice oriented) lawyers, how I both craved time to debrief and deeply resented anything or anyone that took up my time in the evenings after those long, exhausting days, how I was genuinely welcomed by the law students but similarly so grateful to the other social workers that I met there, how a staff person asked me about MSWs after she saw me talking to another volunteer about the dynamics of intimate violence, how trauma-informed the project was even in the face of a system that disempowers these women, how so many of the ICE staff were Hispanic people of color, who were kind to the women, at least in front of me, and who seemed grateful that we were there.


Policy changes overdue

I want to explain that I still believe in asylum law but that we desperately need to update it to reflect the realities of peoples’ lives, and that I don’t really believe in borders especially after this trip; I wanted to convey that while our immigration system is broken, and complex, and run by a xenophobic administration, I have grown weary of blasé discussions about it; I want to talk action, policy change, and activism strategy. I want us to be honest about the abusive and racist history of immigration policy in our country, to recognize that ICE has only existed since 9/11, to acknowledge how far we have to come and how much progress we still need to work towards.



I want to convey that I am so very grateful that I went on this trip. I would do it again. But right now, I am also grateful that I was able to return to my home, job, placement, cats – I was able to return to my normal. I think that a combination of survivors’ guilt and the shock of re-acculturation is normal here; one of the law students described feelings similar to that, in fact. But I only feel ecstatic to be home again.

I find that I am affectively impacted by the trip when I try to articulate the week I spent there, but not in my daily life. I believe this is thanks to my history with crisis work: I have practice returning to an emotional “normal” after hearing trauma-heavy stories. I previously studied cases of Human Rights abuses in Latin America, so in some ways I knew what to expect and didn’t hear anything that made a traumatic impact on me; nothing novel shocked me or shook my faith in humanity, or my world view, or perceptions of my safety.

The stories women shared with me were terrifying, horrible, and I firmly believe that no one deserves to go through what they’ve had to endure: of course I know that every single human being deserves safety, affirmation, and freedom. But, even before my week at Dilley, I also knew that this is not the reality for everyone. I knew what intimate violence looks like, what abuses the detention system heaps on those caught up in its nets, and what horrors instability and colonialist intervention inflict to a region and the people living in it.

The epidemic of intimate partner violence

When it comes to the issue of intimate partner violence, I have less to say than I wish I did. Of everything that impacted me while I was there, the commonality of abuse hit me hardest. There is so much I want to learn about the asylum policies and implications for survivors legally that I don’t know yet and haven’t had time to delve into; there are so many policy changes I know we will need to advocate for. But for now, the images of women crying when they explain about the partners who hurt them instead of protected them, who threatened their children instead of supporting them, who controlled their movements, their clothing, everything; that is what I cannot step away from.

bumper stucker style image, wiht many types of violence agianst women listed: rape, trafficking, domestic violence, "honor" crime, femicide, sexual abuse, forced marriage, genital mutilation, harassment, sexual exploitation.

Bea Serendipity _ Ghee. 2013. Photo. SL SAY NO – End Violence Against Women. From Flikr.     Used by permission CC BY 2.0.



Strangely, I felt hope

I wish I could thank the women who shared their stories with me because their willingness to trust me, to be vulnerable with strangers who look an awful lot like the people who put them in detention, was a gift in itself. Every time a woman told me her story I found myself utterly floored by her resilience, and strength. Every time I heard about the man-made evils the women were fleeing, I heard about them from someone whose power overwhelmed me: these women took their kids and left their homes, they traveled across entire countries over the course of a few weeks or months, and even in detention they took care of business for themselves and their children. I do not mean to put my clients on a pedestal, I only want to explain that while I heard about the horrible things people can do to one another I directly witnessed amazing examples of strength, of the capacity to thrive in harsh conditions, and that this gave me hope.

My biggest trauma-related takeaway from this week: these women’s lives. Their stories. Their utterly legitimate fears, and the utter indifference of an asylum system that prioritizes male-dominated protected categories such as “political opinion”, even though vulnerable, marginalized groups– like women – are more likely to be adversely impacted by instability. The patriarchal double standard is written into our laws; it is a part of our society as much as any other. Of everything I saw in Texas, this is the thing that breaks my heart still, every day.

But I have energy now, too, and a direction, and ideas about what I still need to learn. I feel grateful to finally understand how some of my biggest passions (safety, equality, justice) exist at the juncture of Survivor and Migrant, because previously I conceived of these as separate social groups, separate issues. But, of course, everything is intersectional.

Audre Lorde and her quote: "There is no such thing as a single-issue struggle because we do not lead single-issue lives."

In closing

I’m not sure I really conveyed what I had hoped to convey, but I think it’s time for me to let go of my perfectionism, and to trust readers to further research these issues as they find a connection to them. I do invite anyone to shoot me an email or stop me in-person with any questions they have, because I hope to continue to raise awareness about this whenever and however I can.

Thank you all for reading; I hope that this writing was helpful to you in some way.

In Community,



Teresa Watson is in her second year as an Advanced Standing MSW student and will graduate in May 2019.

Teresa stands under a soflty glowing wall sconce.

Teresa Watson in Dilley, Texas, January 2019.            Photo courtesy of author.


Here is a link to the UB Law School’s blog, “US-Mexico Border Clinic,” with entries by law students. Two of the titles: “One Shot to Tell Their Story,” and “Espero, Pero Tengo Mis Dudas (I hope, but I have my doubts).”



The Dilley Project: UB Students at the US-Mexico Border – Fifth Post

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 .


January 25, 2019


The Breakdown


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.


two women stand in front of small palm tree

Teresa (L) with her Dilley Project roommate, Leighann Ramirez, a JD/MSW student. Photo courtesy of the author.


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.


Teresa in a selfie, with tears in her eyes

It was not a good day. Photo courtesy of the author.









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.


World map in blue as background with silouhettes of alin eof people walking in front of it

Image: Pixabay


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).”

Teresa Watson is in her second year as an Advanced Standing MSW student and will graduate in May 2019.

9 of the students stand in front of a van, at the hotel in Dilley.

Photo of the students in the UB-Mexico Border Clinic group, courtesy of the author.




The Dilley Project: UB Students at the US-Mexico Border – Fourth Post

by Teresa Watson

Editor’s note: This is the fourth in a series of posts from a MSW student who is volunteering with the University at Buffalo Law School US-Mexico Border Clinic and assisting women and children seeking asylum, in a detention center in Dilley, Texas. See previous posts at

Toxic Water, Toxic Environments


Finding the energy to compose a new post is always a challenge at the end of the days here, because my brain is exhausted, and unfortunately, I’m not a morning person. We need to be dressed, breakfasted and ready leave the hotel by 7:15 AM, so I’ve never managed to write posts in the mornings. At the end of a day like this, though, it feels impossible to explain all of the experiences we fit into that day, and equally impossible to create distinct entries when I can’t (for important reasons, of course) discuss specific cases. There is a sameness to the cases that can border on monotony, sometimes, since the legal framework doesn’t adapt to each persons individual life experiences; instead, their life experiences have to adapt to the legal framework. But for this entry I will try to explain some of the things that – well, that most upset me, I guess. Complaints aren’t very solution-focused but these complaints are true.



Firstly, we are not allowed to share anything with the clients, not food or water or gifts of any sort – including coloring books or toys for the kids.

Share in red circle with slash through it that means no sharing

We can give them paper or individual pages to draw on but we are not allowed to bring things to color with into the facility, and I have – multiple times – presented kids with half of a black crayon, a yellow highlighter and a blank paper because it was all we had. Sometimes we would make paper airplanes so the kids could zoom them around the room, or my partner would fold a few sheets into a tight football so they could toss it around gently. It is possible to ask the ICE staff for crayons but, honestly, I generally felt I had to “save up” for more important asks, like coaxing them to look for clients who are missing their appointments- several times a day.

We are not allowed to bring in more than a day’s worth of food and drink; no make-up (lip balm was OK), no cans of food, no more clothing than you would wear in a day, no more over-the-counter medicine than you would use in a day, no cell phones or cameras, and no liquids besides things like tea, water, coffee, etc. The dress code is strictly enforced as well, requiring short or long sleeves, high-necked shirts and knee length skirts, no midriffs, and nothing too tight.

The inability to give these kids something, ANYTHING to do besides watch the movie ICE is playing (in English) or handing them a paper and pen and hoping for the best definitely bothered me- but it did not bother me as much as being unable to share the water with them.

Poisoned Water

Here’s the thing about their water: we volunteers don’t drink it. The Pro Bono staff doesn’t drink it. The ICE staff doesn’t drink it. But the clients do. The clients HAVE TO. The Pro Bono Project tells us that the water is tainted with man-made arsenic, a poison that seeps into the water supply as a result of industrial practices, like fracking; there is also a high likelihood of E. coli being in the water as well because of runoff from cattle ranches and agriculture.


dilley hotel food water supplies

Water and food that the volunteers bought to consume during their stay. Photo courtesy of author.






We are forbidden from even sharing our safe water, our jugs and bottles of non-toxic water which is arguably the most important of the needs at the base of Maslow’s hierarchy, with the clients.



pyramid with 5 levels each in different color, describing the hierarch of needs

Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. Image: Simply Psychology


I’ll be honest with you all, some volunteers did refill the clients paper cups from their own bottles sometimes; I personally never offered to get anyone a drink, not even a sobbing woman who probably could have really benefited from the physically-grounding experience of just drinking water, because I couldn’t bring myself to offer her poison. Some of our clients have babies, or are pregnant – and they’re drinking arsenic. All. Day. Long.

Some of the volunteers say this – the toxic water – is a human rights abuse that they just don’t have enough evidence to litigate yet. I believe that’s true, but even the ICE staff there use their own jugs of bottled water to fill up their coffee makers and then, while the coffee is brewing, turn around and use unfiltered, tainted tap water to fill up the water jugs for the women and kids. From their actions I infer that they also know that what’s in the water there can’t even be boiled out, but somehow it’s not in the budget to bring in clean water for the clients.

If we share our water or food, if we touch the clients, if we hug a kid or comfort a mother by holding her hand, if we are seen offering more than the simplest handshake, we can earn ourselves a lifetime ban and potentially get the whole Pro Bono project in trouble.

Violence against women

The other thing that struck me deeply was the volume of domestic violence/interpersonal violence these women had experienced, and the lack of time to offer support and all the potentially re-triggering questioning that were required in the process of preparing the women for their interview. This issue deserves its own post, or perhaps an entire paper once I have time to sit down and process and research my way through the issue.


Chart lists reasons of why violence against woman and girls matter

Chart: Strive, The Lancet


The truly distressing detail here, beyond the omnipresence of violence enacted against women, is that domestic violence is being removed as grounds that will qualify someone to seek asylum. I knew that the removal endangered the lives of many women; now, I know what their faces look like, what their stories sound like, and what their children’s names are. I know EXACTLY who the U.S. has decided is not worthy of protection.

That’s it for today; hopefully I will have more spirited or inspiring posts to follow.


Teresa stands under a soflty glowing wall sconce.

Teresa Watson, at the hotel in Dilley, Texas, January 2019. Photo courtesy of author.

Teresa is in her second year as an Advanced Standing MSW student and will graduate in May 2019. Her next post will be published tomorrow.


The Dilley Project: UB Students at the US-Mexico Border – Third Post

by Teresa Watson

Editor’s note: This is the third 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 .

January 22, 2019


People are telling us their best hopes; we have to get them back to their darkest fears.

I don’t know if I can express fully what I mean by this, or if there’s a way for me to capture the complex feeling I hope to convey. I do not mean that we have to break them down; I think that we all try very hard not to re-traumatize our clients, to be kind, gentle, to care about them and their stories. I notice the staff giving trauma-informed care when they talk about making sure people know that these records are confidential, that they are safe here, making sure that clients get breaks when they need them, and instructing volunteers about which traumatic details are necessary to dig into and which we definitely do not need to ask about.



But what we DO see is that clients, almost always, have normalized the fear, the danger of their lives – and so when you ask them about what made them come here, they talk instead about hope.



They will tell you they are here for a sense of safety. They are here to give their kids a better life. They are here because the economic opportunities for single mothers are insufficient where they’re coming from, because their kids’ education has been stalled out at home, because they have a friend here, a cousin, they hear it is better for women, better opportunities for their kids. They want their daughters to marry men who will treat them with respect, and they know from experience that violence cycles within families – and they came here to break that cycle.


plumes of tall grass against a gold and blue evening sky

Credit: Jan Tik, licensed under CC by 2.0








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