During the first semester of the 2017–2018 academic year, the Feerick Center organized two service trips to Texas’s southern border to participate in the Dilley Pro Bono Project. DPBP provides limited-scope assistance to detained women with minor-aged children in the largest immigration detention center in the nation: the South Texas Family Residential Center. CoreCivic, one of the largest and most profitable for-profit prison companies in the country, operates the facility. In November 2017, the federal government detained an astonishing number: up to 1,600 women and their minor-aged children. The vast majority of women and children detained in Dilley are from Central America’s Northern Triangle (Honduras, Guatemala, and El Salvador) and are fleeing severe gang- and gender-based violence. DPBP trains, supports, and supervises teams of volunteers who serve on weekly rotations and help prepare asylum-seekers for credible fear interviews with asylum officers.
The first service trip took place from August 20 to 25, 2017, as part of the center’s longstanding collaboration with the Immigration Advocacy Project, a Public Interest Resource Center student group. Eight students served on that trip. On the second service trip, which took place from November 11 to 18, 2017, thirteen volunteers participated. Volunteers included four Fordham Law School and University staff members, one former Feerick Center AmeriCorps VISTA member, one former and one current Feerick Center dean’s fellow, several translators, and three additional Fordham Law School alumni.
During both service trips, due to the high number of detained women and children, volunteers worked grueling hours, often ten to twelve hours per day, conducting back-to-back consultations with DPBP clients in which volunteers helped them prepare for credible fear interviews with asylum officers. Between know-your-rights presentations and interview preparations, Feerick Center volunteers assisted hundreds of asylum seekers in August and November—over 500 in November alone!
The Feerick Center will be taking 14 law students in early January as part of a winter term course. I am thrilled that Bree Bernwanger, the center’s former director of the New York Unaccompanied Immigrant and Immigrant Families Project, is returning to Fordham Law School to teach the seminar and fieldwork component. The center will collaborate, once again, with the Immigration Advocacy Project to organize a second student service trip over spring break. The next Feerick Center alumni and staff trip will take place from June 23 to 30, 2018.
As part of broader advocacy efforts, DPBP staff members work closely with DPBP’s sponsoring organizations and other national partners. Advocacy goals include ending family detention as well as addressing inhumane and illegal practices and policies related to family detention.
One recurring issue that has come up during service trips involves illegal conduct by immigration officials at the border. I encourage you to read a May 2017 report by Human Rights First, “Crossing the Line: U.S. Border Agents Illegally Reject Asylum Seekers,” about asylum seekers being turned away at official land crossings along the southern border.
In a prior service trip in June 2017, I prepared an affidavit for a DPBP client who described her experience seeking asylum at the U.S. Border and the repeated attempts by Customs and Border Patrol agents to turn her away and discourage her from seeking asylum in the United States. Her experience and story highlighted for me the importance of civil society—and in particular the legal community—standing up for refugees and asylees and upholding our nation’s deep immigrant traditions and values.
Dora Galacatos is the executive director of the Fordham Law School Feerick Center for Social Justice.