Artesia, Day Two (and a half)

laura lichter artesiaHas it really only been two days? I guess technically, it’s three since I’m writing this at 1:30am. I have another long day ahead, but it’s important to get this out and, you know, you can sleep when you’re dead.

I feel like I’ve been here for weeks. The intensity of this experience has everyone in its grip. No one is getting much sleep:  volunteers get to the facility at 7:00am because Credible Fear Interviews (CFIs) start at 7:30am. CFIs are held all day long and into the evening. We understand the Asylum Office is trying to get its officers to call it quits by 7pm, but that’s not always happening. Just doing the math is daunting:  five asylum officers, twelve hours of interviews a day, seven days a week. It would take 1000 hours of attorney time to prepare these cases and we don’t have anywhere near that kind of time.

We stagger back to our dear “War Room” at the end of the day to celebrate our victories and commiserate when we lose. We trade stories and indignation over what new bullsh_ _  surfaced during the day and brainstorm how to make the process a little less miserable and a little more fair. We strategize on how to get the detainees the help they need and the due process they deserve. The pizza tastes great after a day when our only nutrition has been a couple of protein bars because we’re too slammed to eat—and too concerned about wasting time to leave the facility. Beer and wine have therapeutic benefits.

Yesterday we said goodbye to the Nevada contingent—maybe they’ve made the long drive home by now. We also lost a few Colorado AILA stalwarts. The volunteer from New York is taking off at 6:00am tomorrow. We’re down to less than half the volunteers we had at the beginning of the week, and spend hours trying to prioritize and triage cases.

Today, a care package came from AILA National. Amid the much appreciated office supplies were a couple of special items:  I’d asked if our Conferences people could send us some logo name tags and lanyards—and today we proudly wore our new “AILA Pro Bono Legal Help” badges. People recognize AILA and what we’re doing. They know we respect them, they tell us we give them hope. There is something so powerful in hearing, “que Dios te bendiga,” God bless you.

AILA also sent us a FlipCam, which I’ve been using to interview our AILA volunteers. I was able to capture some pretty inspiring and raw footage—not a single person (not even the camera operator) was able to recount their experience with dry eyes. You have to watch once AILA posts the edited footage.

Tomorrow—or actually, later this morning, I have a review of an CFI denial in front of an immigration judge that thinks counsel in these proceedings should be about as active as a potted plant. Wish me luck—should be just about the most fun I‘ve had all week.

Written by Laura Lichter, AILA Past President

by Laura Lichter