The CARA Family Detention Pro Bono Project has identified more than 40 children and mothers who have been arrested in Immigration and Customs Enforcement raids and detained in Dilley or Karnes City, Texas, according to a recent report released by the project.
The report shares the cases of Central Americans who were arrested and taken to detention centers in the United States after fleeing their own countries to escape violence.
"CARA" is the collective name for volunteers working on these issues from the Catholic Legal Immigration Network, the American Immigration Council, the Refugee and Immigrant Center for Education and Legal Services, and the American Immigration Lawyers Association.
"The report itself is produced by data we collected from the cases that were brought to the residential center of the people who were picked up in a raid that we worked with," said Ian Philabaum, a staff member in Dilley who helped gather information for the report. "All the data comes directly from the service that we were able to provide, making sure that these asylum seekers, these refugees, were safe. It is providing direct services to these refugees that are about to be deported by ICE."
Those detained were "denied due process," according to the report, and were treated with "aggressive and inappropriate conduct" during the ICE raids.
In response to a request for comment from Catholic News Service, Jennifer Elzea, ICE's acting press secretary, said: "To be clear, ICE does not conduct 'raids,' which implies a random and haphazard search for illegal aliens. All our operations are targeted based on investigative leads and conducted in a professional manner."
ICE "is focused on smart, effective immigration enforcement that prioritizes the removal of criminal aliens, recent border crossers and egregious immigration law violators, such as those who have been previously removed from the United States," Elzea said in an email to CNS.
The agency "routinely exercises prosecutorial discretion when prioritizing cases for removal, and considers humanitarian factors when making decisions at all stages of the immigration enforcement process," she said, noting that for example, "ICE personnel consider the length of presence in the United States, the age of the person upon arrival, whether the person is the primary caretaker of a young child, military service, family and community ties, medical conditions, and other factors."
Any unauthorized immigrants "being considered for removal," she added, "are afforded all appropriate due process under the law, including exhaustion of all avenues of appeal."
Philabaum told CNS that when immigrants coming from Central America "first get here, they're in a state of shock. The best way to deal with that is to convey the idea that you're here to help them and give them a foundation in which they can place their feet so they know that they're not free-falling."
The CARA report lists the pseudonyms of mothers and children and the trauma they endured while in their home countries. Some suffered physical and sexual abuse, while others were kidnapped and tortured.
"(The project) is simultaneously heartbreaking and challenging and stressful, because the stakes are so high," said Philabaum. "People hold us to a very high standard in terms of the goals that we set and results we produce. Ultimately, it's for the safety of these women and children, and these mothers and children refugees."
One of the difficulties that the project is working to combat, is making sure that they are aware of their access to legal counsel, said Philabaum.
"They were being denied access," said Philabaum. "We had to make sure that was on the table and it was publicly known that the right to accessing council was something that can be made available to people."
Philabaum said that the project provides legal services to detainees, though there is not always enough time to work on the cases and keep them from being deported while their cases is appealed.
"This is a big challenge," he said. "This is something that we really had to go to bat for and challenge ICE, who is trying to deport them as fast as possible."
Cristina, one of the women listed in the report, was arrested in a raid at her home in Houston and was brought to Dilley for deportation. She was released after the project intervened, proving to ICE that she was arrested before her hearing in court, denying her right to due process.
Philabaum mentioned that prior to their arrival in Dilley, many of the refugees lived normal lives in both their home countries and in America.
"A lot of them have this experience with multiple cultures that makes them really vibrant and fun to interact with," said Philabaum. "(The) human connections that you make with these brave mothers and really smart children, you develop a friendship with them that makes you work that much harder to fight to make sure that they're always as safe as possible and that they have every opportunity at their fingertips."
The report was released about a week prior to the Supreme Court's decision on June 23 to uphold a lower court's ruling to block President Barack Obama's executive actions to temporarily protect more than 4 million unauthorized immigrants from deportation.