OPINION

Opinion: A 'Tale of Two Artesias,' as told by an immigration lawyer on the ground

Among the more than 400 Salvadoran, Guatemalan and Honduran women and children detained at the Family Detention Center in Artesia, New Mexico there are many commonalities: many have fled unspeakable physical and sexual violence by domestic partners, or by the gangs that now control large swaths of these countries, or both. Many have fled because of specific threats by the gangs against their lives and against the lives of their children. 

Some indigenous families have fled after being threatened, beaten, and raped by police and paramilitary units for protesting the usurpation of their land by large mining companies. All have made a very dangerous journey with the most important thing in the world to them: their children.

This dichotomy is heartbreaking to witness. Essentially, those who have been there the longest are the least likely to secure release, these families sit and watch as families there for weeks rather than months rightfully weep with joy.

- Jennifer Casey

However, last week, as I volunteered as part of a stalwart band of pro bono attorneys in Artesia, it became clear that there are two distinct groups of families detained there. 

The first group includes those who arrived in June and July of 2014. These families had their cases heard by immigration judges from the U.S. Immigration Court in Arlington, Virginia, where the judges were not accustomed to the fact patterns and characteristics of these families. They were persuaded that these women were either enough of a flight risk or threat to national security that they should be denied bond altogether or granted a bond far too expensive for any of them or their relatives to pay. 

Many of these women have appealed their bond determinations and have filed motions for subsequent bond redetermination, but due to the procedural posture of their cases, they continue to wait for decisions on these motions or for hearings on the merits of their applications for relief.

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The second group includes the families that have arrived more recently: those who entered the United States in late August, September and October. These families are pursuing motions for bond before Immigration Judges from the Denver Immigration Court. Being more familiar with the fact patterns and characteristics of these families, the Denver Judges have assessed the flight risk and national security issues that these families pose differently, and, in many cases, have been more amenable to setting more modest bonds than previous judges.

This dichotomy is heartbreaking to witness. Essentially, those who have been there the longest are the least likely to secure release, these families sit and watch as families there for weeks rather than months rightfully weep with joy, embrace their attorneys and children and bless the judges in Spanish or Q’anjobal or Quiche when they find out that they are free. Meanwhile, those that have been here the longest are forced to idly and hopelessly wait yet another week or month to find out their fate and the fates of their children. 

This week, following court, with great joy I was able to discuss with one client the $1,500 bond she had just received. She said to me, “I am so happy that you got to meet me on this day, because this is the first day I have been happy in so long, please tell the other lawyer that helped me how happy I am today, because she has only seen me deeply depressed.”

I then had to walk 10 steps over to another client, and with tears in my eyes, advise her that although she was certainly equally as deserving as the woman before her, because of the posture of her case, she would have to come back in 2 weeks to see if the Judge had granted her Motion for Subsequent Bond, and then after that, if successful, at yet another hearing, she might be able to secure a reasonable bond. She said to me, “but lawyer, we have been here for four months. My daughter will no longer eat the food. She has lost 7 pounds since we have been here. We cannot stay here any longer.”

Both of these women were deserving of release on bond. Both of these women fled their home countries in fear of their lives and the lives of their children. Neither of these women had any criminal history or history of immigration violations. The fact that their fates at this facility are so different underscores the fundamental lack of due process in Artesia — especially when international refugee law, U.S. immigration law, DHS policy guidance and our own moral compasses tell us that neither group ever should have been here in the first place.

Jennifer Casey is an AILA volunteer and a Senior Associate Attorney at Kolko & Associates, P.C. in Denver, Colorado.

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