There are now more than 600 women and children from Honduras, El Salvador and Guatemala at FLETC. ICE officials have said the goal is to process the immigrants and have them deported within 10 to 15 days to send a message back to their home countries that there are consequences for illegal immigration.
But this streamlining of the legal process can only happen if DHS prejudges these migrants’ cases or makes it hard for them to have their asylum and other claims heard.
Under a complex system established by a 1996 immigration law, immigrants taken into custody within 100 miles of the border are subject to a process called expedited removal. Border Patrol officers are supposed to tell people of their right to an interview with an asylum officer if they fear returning to their home country. If they express this fear, they are detained by Immigration and Customs Enforcement.
Asylum officers then interview them to determine if they have a “credible fear” of persecution – a threshold determination. If so, they then can have a full hearing before an immigration judge. Those found not to have a “credible fear” face quick deportation.
New Mexico Immigrant Law Center was able to view the Artesia facility and talk to women and children during a July 22 tour for non-governmental organizations and the next day in individual interviews. We were shocked by what we saw and heard.
Many women reported that Border Patrol officers didn’t ask them about the fear of returning to their countries. The women had very little understanding of the processes they faced and were often forced to sign forms in English they could not read. Officers told them they were going to be deported, whether they had a lawyer or not.
ICE started deporting women and children before any outside organization could even do Know Your Rights presentations. Some detainees were given a list of free legal services, but it consists of three organizations in Texas that can’t represent detained persons in Artesia.
There are also only 20 “floating” cell phones for the 600 plus detainees to use to call attorneys and families. Some women reported that phones were ripped out of their hands after 2-3 minutes and that phone “privileges” were taken away when children misbehaved.
Confidential lawyer-client communications are impossible, as only two two-sided, cubicles, separated by a few feet, are available in a room in which ICE officials use a nearby fax machine, and constant passersby can easily eavesdrop.
And the only access to pro se legal materials is through two computers with no written materials in Spanish. Many detainees have never even used computers.
As a result, women and children have gone to their credible fear interviews with no representation or prior legal orientation. Many receive no prior notice of when their interviews or hearings will be, and thus have no opportunity to call an attorney. And even in cases where women successfully hired an attorney, interviews and hearings have taken place without notice and without their attorneys present.
The judges are in Arlington, Va., 1,800 miles away from the detainees and make decisions about these women and children’s fates over videoconference.
Prolonged detention puts unbearable pressure on the detainees to abandon their cases and agree to deportation. When a mother has to beg for a diaper for her child who has not eaten in five days, she feels desperate and in her words, humiliated.
The migrants at the border are fleeing for their lives and deserve a genuine humanitarian reception and a fair chance to present their cases. The Obama Administration should release the women and children and halt all deportations until FLETC is in compliance with the U.S. and international legal standards.