Comforting the Detained Families of Dilley

Twenty eight years ago my mother fled her home in Nicaragua, a country embroiled in civil war. For years, her life and that of her family had been ravaged by a country with corrupt government officials and oppressed by a rebel group that brought nothing but violence to civilians like my parents. My mother saw family members and friends killed or forced to fight for a cause they did not believe in. At one point, she was taken hostage and held at gunpoint by militant groups and forced to drop out of school. After my brother was born, my mother decided to make her way to the United States in search of a better life. Four months ago, my mother became a naturalized citizen. Although undocumented for years, she was able to work and provide my brother and me with a safe home, education, and the resources to succeed.

My mother is the reason I wanted to go to the Family Detention Center in Dilley, Texas as a volunteer with the CARA Family Detention Pro Bono Representation and Advocacy Project. Had my mom been an asylum seeking immigrant today, she would be in the same situation as the women I encountered in the detention center.

Each woman was there because she had a fear of returning to her country of origin and it was our job, as volunteers, to discover that reason. An important task that the volunteers were charged with was preparing the mothers for their Credible Fear Interviews with Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). During these preparations, I heard first hand accounts as to why these mothers fled their country. The reasons varied from gang violence, death threats, sexual harassment, and vicious domestic violence. One woman had her entire house burned to the ground by a gang. The life of her child was threatened unless she fled the country at once. Another woman recounted the multiple times her husband abused her, meanwhile, her daughter listened and sobbed uncontrollably while her son tried to fight back the tears at recalling the painful memories.

The most difficult aspect of volunteering in Dilley was undoubtedly the emotional toll of seeing and hearing the experiences of these women and children. What is even more heartbreaking is seeing their current conditions in the detention centers, where the haven they dreamed of is nothing but a desert wasteland. Although I witnessed a lot of sadness during my time in Dilley, I feel blessed to have experienced incredible high points as well. I made a difference. When a detainee recounted the pain of persecution, I did my best to console them. I comforted the women with my words and tried to boost the confidence of their children.

These moments were what made every long hour worthwhile. Moreover, the volunteers during my week were an incredibly kind group of experts. I am happy to say these people became my friends. If asked if I would volunteer with the CARA Family Detention Pro Bono Representation and Advocacy Project again, I would absolutely say yes.

I am thankful every day that my mother made the decision to leave her country in search of a better life. I know that one day, when these children grow up and realize the sacrifices their families have made, they too will be grateful.

Ashlynn Planco is Legalization Administrative Assistant for the Catholic Legal Immigration Network (CLINIC)

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