Dear Friends,Approximately 187 miles separate my office in Houston from the Karnes County Residential Center.
On many mornings, I make the trip before the sun rises. It takes about three hours to arrive. But no matter how many times I travel to Karnes, there never seems to be enough time to mentally prepare for where I’m headed: a jail for mothers and children. And no matter what the Obama Administration chooses to call these facilities, the facts remain the same. Inside, half of the children are age six or under.
It was here that I met Lucia and her baby Sophia.*
Lucia was 14 when her family forced her to marry her husband. He beat her from day one. Everyone in her community turned a blind eye. Guatemala is one of the most dangerous countries in the world to be a woman. A woman is killed every 12 hours, and their murderers are rarely brought to justice.
Lucia’s husband nearly took her life in a public square. He beat her again and again with his gun. When Lucia woke up, she ran to her father’s house with her 10-month-old baby. Her father tied her to a chair and threw boiling water on her. “Go back to your husband,” he said. Lucia thought she would be safe in the United States, but once she made it across the border, she was arrested. She spoke an indigenous language and couldn’t find the words to tell her story. U.S. immigration officials responded to Lucia’s desperate plea for help much like her father had: They told her to go back to Guatemala.
By the time I met Lucia, she had lost all hope. Her baby had a chronic cough that made her vomit, and she had lost a lot of weight. She asked for medicine, but never got any.
I couldn’t turn my back on Lucia and Sophia.
I reached out to a generous donor who paid Lucia’s bond and got her and her baby out of detention. A kind family in Houston agreed to open their home to Lucia and her baby until they got back on their feet. I alerted our Equal Justice Works Fellow of Lucia’s looming deportation, and we quickly put together a pro bono team, including a translator, to support her.
With this army of supporters behind us, justice prevailed. We cleared a path for Lucia and her daughter to apply for asylum.
Every day, I am in awe of brave women like Lucia, who fight against so many odds, and the incredible commitment of my staff and our growing Pro Bono Network of attorneys, medical providers, and field experts who tirelessly advocate for their access to justice.
These days, on the long road to Karnes, I often think about my favorite memory of Lucia — captured in a photograph. It shows her a few weeks after her release from Karnes with a big smile on her face and a healthy, chubby-cheeked Sophia on her lap. I focus on Lucia’s inspiring outcome to remind myself: We can’t lose hope now.
If immigration authorities continue at the current rate, 45,000 mothers and children could be imprisoned in the next year. Like Lucia, many are survivors of trauma, having fled domestic or sexual violence, threats or attacks by local gangs, and other violence that I can’t imagine my own three children having to endure.
Detention is no place for refugee mothers and children. With your help, we can continue to pressure the Obama Administration to do the right thing. We can continue to protect immigrant mothers and children like Lucia and Sophia caught up in a system gone wrong.
Please, help us support refugee women like Lucia before the year ends. I can think of no greater gifts to give this holiday season than the gifts of hope, justice, and a brighter future for all.
On behalf of Tahirih Justice Center and women like Lucia, thank you!
Featured Photo: Anne Chandler outside Dilley detention center with a group of pro bono volunteers from the American Bar Association.
*Names have been changed for clients’ protection.