Fuerza y Fianzas: a proposal for people to support families in a concrete way

lightening from NASA websiteThe problem

The Dilley ICE prison is about to open. There, families – up to 2400 people — will be incarcerated based on the thinnest and most transparent of irrational ratinales: That refugees pose a “national security” threat to the U.S. What’s really at stake is the enrichment of billionaire Red McCombs and profiteers at Corrections Corporation of America (CCA), the nation’s largest for-profit prison company. It will be run by a Eloy, a town in Arizona. Who are the “real” bosses? Where will be the “real” accountability? It’s going to be hard for refugees, immigrants, and their advocates to get straight answers.

– We know that the first priority for immigrants and refugees is to get out of the immigration prisons (even when they are called “detention” or “family residential” centers);

– We know that the current policy of ICE, at least at Karnes is to set NO bonds for any Central American mother and her children (and perhaps for others as well);

– We also know that the pro bono legal community, a brave little band (if I do say so myself, as one of its members) is stretched to the breaking point. Last I heard, forty women at Karnes – and their children – were asking for legal representation but none of us who are already representing families can do more;

– We know that most women and children at Karnes and Dilley will NOT have legal assistance;

– We know that many of these women and children will turn to unscrupulous lawyers and notarios, who will sometimes charge exhorbitant fees, to do little or even nothing to help the detained families;

– We also know that women and some of the teenage children can do more to help themselves, if given some guidance;

– We know that there exists in Austin, San Antonio, and smaller communities in Central and South Texas, a great number of generous and capable volunteers willing to do what is necessary to help;

Although there are already some of these fine people working on preparing applications for bond, I propose that we expand and formalize a bond force, to provide women with the tools they need to apply for bonds from immigration judges even if they do not have lawyers.

How would we do this?

We assemble a mighty fuerza of people with a variety of skills who are available to take on different, discrete tasks. (The tasks would also be discreet, in the sense that any information a family gave us would need to remain confidential except from the court and yes, yikes, the lawyers for ICE.) More specifically,

1) We call for volunteers;

2) We train volunteers;

3) We break up the process of asking for bond into discrete steps that can be performed by people with different skills and kinds of availability;

4) We form teams;

5) Each team would assist one woman at a time to prepare her bond application for filing in immigration court, pro se.

WHAT WOULD THESE VOLUNTEERS DO, EXACTLY?

a) A trusted volunteer Spanish speaker who can go to Karnes or Dilley interviews a woman. This volunteer obtains information from the woman and ALSO explains the bond process to the woman.

1. This volunteer finds out from the woman the name(s) of the person or people with whom she would stay in the U.S., should she be released from the ICE prison, and gets that person’s phone number and any other information the woman has.
2. This volunteer would also ascertain whether the woman seems to be eligible for release on bond (arrested after crossing the border, not as an “arriving alien” on the bridge, not a person who has re-entered after a previous removal or deportation, not convicted of an aggravated felony in the U.S., etc.)
3. The volunteer also finds out about any special circumstances, for instance health problems of any of the people who are detained – the mother or her kids.

…..FOR THESE TASKS, THE VOLUNTEER MUST BE A SPANISH SPEAKER. SINCE THE PERSON WILL BE GOING TO KARNES OR DILLEY, THE PERSON MUST ALSO BE A U.S. CITIZEN OR SQUEAKY SURE POSITIVE LPR (although I don’t recommend that ANY non-citizen visit ICE prisons.)

b) A trusted volunteer Spanish speaker, who may or may not be the person who interviewed the woman, starts making calls to the relative(s) or other support people the woman has named. This volunteer coaches the relative or other support person through the process of writing a letter to the court and submitting documentation, such as proof of the person’s status in the U.S. (citizenhis, legal permanent resident, DACA or Temporary Protected status). See, for example Help convince a court to set bond for a woman detained in Karnes; and a sample bond letter from a family member This volunteer gathers all the documents.
…..THIS PERSON, IN MOST CASES, WILL NEED TO BE A SPANISH SPEAKER. THE WORK WILL BE MOSTLY ON THE PHONE.  THE NATIONALITY OR IMMIGRATION STATUS OF THE VOLUNTEER WON’T MATTER AT ALL.  NOR WILL THE GEOGRAPHIC LOCATION OF THE VOLUNTEER!  THE VOLUNTEER MUST BE ABLE TO MAKE AND RECEIVE PHONE CALLS, AND BE SOMEWHAT FLEXIBLE ABOUT WHEN.  MANY DETAINED REFUGEES AND IMMIGRANTS HAVE  RELATIVES OR OTHER SUPPORT PEOPE WHO MAY BE WORKING ALL DAY.  THIS VOLUNTEER PREFERABLY HAS THE ABILITY AND EQUIPMENT TO TEXT AS WELL.  AS MANY IMMIGRANTS ARE TEXTING BUT DON’T HAVE ACCESS TO E-MAIL.  BUT MOSTLY THE VOLUNTEER JUST NEEDS THE GANAS TO DO THE JOB!

c) If a letter arrives in Spanish, someone must translate it into English, and provide a certificate of translation (we will give you an example).
MUST BE A VOLUNTEER CAPABLE OF TRANSLATING WRITTEN SPANISH TO WRTTEN ENGLISH.  THE TASK CAN BE DONE ANYWHERE, BY ANYONE WITH THIS TRANSLATING SKILL.

d) Someone, maybe the same person who has taken on tasks a) and b), but maybe not, finds a lawyer in the area where the woman intends to go, who will agree to take on the woman’s claim for asylum, withholding of removal, and/or protection under the Convention Against Torture.
THIS VOLUNTEER DOES NOT NEED TO BE A SPANISH SPEAKER.

e) Someone, who may or may not be not the same volunteer as in any of the steps above, assembles the bond application packet in triplicate (the original for the court, an copy for the USDHS lawyer, and a copy for the woman) or quadruplicate (adding a copy for the prosepective lawyer where the woman is headed). The person takes pleasure in assembling the package ALONG WITH THE BOND FORM in the anal, obsessive-compulsive way required by the immigration court. There’s a lovely index, tabs, hole punched on top, the certificate of service, the works.
THIS VOLUNTEER DOES NOT NEED TO BE A SPANISH SPEAKER, BUT IDEALLY WOULD LIVE OR WORK IN OR NEAR SAN ANTONIO, KARNES, OR DILLEY, ALTHOUGH THE PERSON COULD BE SOMEWHERE ELSE.

f) A volunteer mails or delivers the originals to the court, gets the woman’s copy file-marked, and mails or delivers the copy to the Assistant Counsel for USDHS.
THIS VOLUNTEER DOES NOT NEED TO BE SPANISH SPEAKING.  PREFERABLY THIS VOLUNTEER NEEDS TO BE NEAR THE ASSEMBLER (see task f), BUT THEY BOTH COULD BE ANYWHERE, ALTHOUGH SAN ANTONIO PREFERRED.

g) A Spanish-speaking volunteer who is at Karnes or Dilley coaches the woman before her bond hearing, and also makes clear what bond IS and what it is NOT (it is not a payment that then allows her to live in the U.S.!!, as apparently many people are given to believe!) This volunteer also explains to the woman her responsibilities once she is released on bond.

h) Either this task force could also help with the bonding out process, or could assist some of the wonderful people who are already doing that in San Antonio, or could explain to the relative/other sponsor how to do it.

It is WRONG for ICE to refuse to set bonds for any and every woman coming with her child or children from Central America! 

What if we shared the tools for each woman to stand up for herself….with a little help from her friends?

WHAT DO YOU THINK?

• We could call it “proyecto libertad” if that honorable name was not already taken!

December 14, 2014

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