Accessing Justice Requires a Guide

volunteer-652383_1280The three-year-old boy was a charmer, no question, so it was disorienting to encounter him in a detention facility in Texas. He loved being pushed in a stroller by his 19-year old mother, barely out of childhood herself. How did they get there?

D- is an indigenous woman who married very young in Guatemala. She had a decent life with her husband, that is, until the day he came home with another woman who he demanded live with them and raise their son. D- walked out, with the clothes on her back and her son in her arms, and kept walking the two hours to her mother’s house.

Her husband, in-laws, and the new “wife” followed her, threatening D- and her son with death if she did not return the boy or live with the bigamous relationship.  They threatened to find D- no matter where she went in Guatemala and kill her if she refused their demands. She gathered her son and left – seeking safety through distance and over borders.

This was not a custody dispute. As the expert witness gently explained to the court, there is no access to justice for a Quiche woman from a village. She fled because she had no choice. The immigration judge agreed, finding that she fits within the criteria of Guatemalan women unable to leave a relationship. The judge recognized that she could only leave the relationship by giving up the child and decided that being able to raise her son is a fundamental right she shouldn’t have to sacrifice.

D- and her son were granted asylum and are now living safely in the U.S. D- was incredibly fortunate; most indigenous women cannot speak any Spanish and therefore cannot communicate with lawyers trying to help, but she had learned enough along the way that she could explain her case. She also was able to act as a sort of translator for other Quiche speakers in the detention center. Now that D- is free, her Quiche-speaking peers and their children are again cut off from communicating because the detention center does not have translators for them. How can they access justice?

D- has three years of education and cannot write much beyond her name. Stuck in detention, her case was stalled, despite her passing a credible fear interview, because she wasn’t able to complete her I-589 and get it filed. What are these mothers, particularly those who cannot write in any language, expected to do in order to proceed with their meritorious claims?  I know that without the CARA Family Detention Pro Bono Project and the assistance of an expert witness, D- would have had little to no chance of getting her day in court.

Women like D- and children like her son need help. Since our government is unwilling to let them access justice from outside the walls of a detention center where they might have better access to interpreters and attorneys, we need to go to them. That’s what the CARA Project is doing, bringing due process to those families detained by this Administration.

If you can speak Spanish, volunteer. If you can’t speak Spanish, but can bring an interpreter, volunteer. If you know someone who knows someone who speaks Quiche or another indigenous language, volunteer and convince them to as well. If you can’t come in person but can help with bond packets or other filings remotely, volunteer. Volunteer. We are their only opportunity to access justice.

Written by Kim Hunter, CARA Family Detention Pro Bono Project Volunteer


If you are an AILA member who wants to volunteer at a family detention center, please go to the CARA Family Detention Pro Bono Project page or feel free to contact Maheen Taqui at – we could really use your help.

To watch videos of the volunteers sharing their experiences, go to this playlist on AILA National’s YouTube page. To see all the blog posts about this issue select Family Detention as the category on the right side of this page.

by Guest Blogger