A few weeks ago, we sent a second delegation of Clinic students to Artesia, New Mexico. There, they represented migrant women being held with their children in the Artesia Temporary Facility for Adults with Children. If you missed our earlier posts about this project, you can see them here and here.
The following is a guest post from Alia Al-Khatib, a 3L in our Immigrant Justice Clinic who accompanied the second delegation to Artesia.
As a clinical law student, spending a week in Artesia, New Mexico was an invaluable experience. While it was very difficult for me to navigate working within a crisis lawyering model, I was inspired by the dedication and passion of advocates working in the detention facility. In Artesia, advocates and lawyers are working with great urgency to get women out of detention as soon as possible. One of the women who I met was one of the earliest arrivals to the detention facility and had been there since July. Her and her son’s mental and physical health had deteriorated noticeably during this four-month period. She had lost a lot of weight and was experiencing stress headaches. Her one-and-a-half year old son had a chronic ear infection and cold. From the beginning, the advocates and lawyers working with AILA made it clear to volunteers that the main purpose of the project to get these women released to their loved ones who were living in the United States and to shut down the facility.
During my week in Artesia, I represented two women in bond hearings. For my second bond hearing, I represented a woman from Guatemala who was in detention with her three-year-old son. We had met the day before as I prepared her for her bond hearing. She had many questions about the process, and she was, understandably, anxious to leave the facility. During the bond hearing, she was clearly very nervous. While she was giving her testimony, her three-year-old son sat in a chair next to her. In Artesia, all court appearances and credible fear interviews are conducted in this way. The children are in the same room as their mothers are asked to recount horrifying experiences that caused them to leave their country and flee to United States. While advocates check with the women if they want their children to be present for the credible fear interviews, the facility does not have any accommodations for young children to be taken care of while the women are meeting with lawyers or officials. In the middle of my client’s testimony, her three-year-old son fell asleep in his chair and began to slowly slide down the chair. She had to pick up her son and place him on her lap as she responded to a question that the judge had asked her.
Both the judge and the DHS attorney appeared via video conference, and neither of them seemed to blink an eye as this happened. At this point, they must be used to the conditions of hearings in Artesia. All of the women and children who have hearings on that day are brought in to the trailer that serves as the courtroom. The video camera only shows the person appearing for her hearing with her attorney, but surely the judge and the DHS attorney hear children screaming or laughing in the background. They must also see the drawing books and the crayons that are given to the children during bond hearings so they are distracted while their mother gives her testimony. The lack of response to this mother picking up her son in the middle of giving her testimony in court, while not surprising at all to me, was very troubling. They showed no concern for the mother or her sleeping child; they did not even pause as she picked him up and held him in her arms. They treated this scene as if it were completely normal for a testifying witness to attend to her three-year-old child in the middle of answering the judge’s questions. Conditions similar to those in Artesia should never be treated as normal or every day. That was what I appreciated about advocates working in Artesia- they never ceased to be outraged. Their sole goal was to shut down the facility, and they never treated these circumstances as if they were normal or justified.
At the end of the hearing, the mother learned that she had received a $4,500 bond. I was nervous because the day before she mentioned she was worried about getting a high bond. When I told her, her face lit up. She said that her husband would probably be able to pay it. I was very happy for her. We discussed next steps briefly, and she carried her sleeping son out of the trailer to call her husband with the good news.