Editor’s note: Alice Alveraz is volunteering at the Port Isabel Detention Center in Los Fresnos, Texas.
Today (Saturday) I worked as an attorney. As many of you know, I’m here in Texas working as a volunteer medic at a clinic for families who have just been released from ICE. Happenstance and fate connected me yesterday to a group of attorneys who were meeting with parents separated from their children and detained in Port Isabel Detention Center.
Our job today was to gather information about where their children were at, how the kids were, amount of contact (if any), the status of their asylum claim and if they had been subject to coercive efforts to give up their asylum claims in exchange for being reunited with their children — some as young as 6 months.
This is a prison — no phones allowed, no jewelry, no water/coffee. I brought nothing but two pens and a notepad, and was locked in a 10-foot-by-6-foot room from 1:30 p.m. to 8:20 p.m. Each parent (referred to by their number and not name) was brought to me in prison-like attire.
What I learned:
• Mothers were told that if they signed a piece of paper (with no explanation of what it was) they would see their children soon (ostensibly, this was to coerce them to forfeit their asylum claim).
• I was told mothers had been in for 10 to 20 days and had no contact with their children at all.
• Some had a phone call from their child but did not know where they were.
• Many thought that if they were deported, their children would be kept here in the U.S. (turns out this is happening — see recent Reuters article).
• Some parents did not speak Spanish or English well enough to have a credible/reasonable fear interview without violating due process (but did not know how to ask for a translator or that they had a right to a translator).
• Mothers and fathers had been separated from their children for up to 18 days already.
• Mothers and fathers are provided a phone number to call for attorney help but they do not have money to make the call. (I gave them my toll-free number).
• Almost all the mothers cried when asked about their children.
Finally, every mother and father I spoke to was moved and many cried when I told them that today, in every major city all across the U.S., people were in the streets protesting the taking of children. That the many good people of this country were fighting — in the streets and in the courts — to fix this terrible wrong.
I know there is more, but I am exhausted. This took all my stamina, legal knowledge, language skills and empathic efforts in attempting to be there 150 percent for every person I spoke to.
If you are not well out of your comfort zone, you are not doing enough.
San Diego (formerly of Idyllwild)