Fighting for Immigrant Women and Children in Detention | Gender Justice Project
Professor Lindsay M. Harris

Professor Lindsay M. Harris

Co-Director, Immigration & Human Rights Clinic

Lindsay Harris is an Assistant Professor and Co-Director of the Immigration & Human Rights Clinic at the UDC David A. Clarke School of Law. Prior to joining UDC, Professor Harris focused on efforts to end the detention of immigrant families as part of the CARA Family Detention Pro Bono Project. In her previous practice in the DC metro area, Professor Harris launched and led the African Women’s Empowerment Project at the Tahirih Justice Center, conducting outreach to and representing survivors of gender-based violence. Professor Harris previously taught at Georgetown University in their asylum clinic and also taught a refugee law course at George Mason University School of Law.

In law school, Professor Harris served as a student leader of the California Asylum Representation Clinic, the Boalt Hall Committee for Human Rights, the Boalt Hall Women’s Association, and on the editorial staff of the Berkeley Journal of International Law. She interned with the Center for Gender and Refugee Studies and was a Berkeley Human Rights Center Fellow in South Africa. After law school, Professor Harris clerked on the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals.

Professor Harris’ research examines the human outcomes of immigration laws and policies. Her publications address contemporary issues in asylum law and policy, including gender-based and gang-related asylum claims. She is a frequent speaker on issues involving asylee integration, the immigration court system, gender-based and gang-based asylum claims, the detention of immigrant families, and the use of experts in asylum cases.

Makeda Crane

Makeda Crane

3rd year law student

Makeda Crane is a native of Brooklyn, New York and third-year law student at the UDC David A. Clarke School of Law. Ms. Crane graduated from University of Maryland Baltimore County, where she received a B.A. degree in Political Science. Upon graduation she worked in East Baltimore as a Youth Employment Advocate and a Rehabilitation Drug Counselor. Ms. Crane produced multiple publications in the Opinion pages of the Baltimore Sun and traveled to the Democratic Republic of Congo as an independent investigative journalist.  Upon returning to the states, she publicly advocated for a political solution to ending the conflict in Eastern Congo.  Ms. Crane was the co-founder of a DC-based advocacy and direct-action organization, Collective Power, which focused on criminal justice reform and was an instrumental organizer in ensuring the passage of the DC’s Simple Possession of Small Quantities of Marijuana Decriminalization Amendment Act of 2013.

In her first year of law school Ms. Crane collaborated with classmate and founder of the National Association Against Police Brutality, Johnathan Newton to organize the first (NAAPB) Forum. In the Spring of 2017, Ms. Crane served as Student Attorney in the Government Accountability Project (G.A.P.) clinic where she advocated on behalf of my whistleblowing clients.  In March of 2017, she served as a Student Attorney on behalf of families seeking asylum at Karnes Detention Center in Karnes City, Texas.  In the summer of 2017, she interned at the District of Columbia Office of Human Rights (DCOHR) as an Investigations Law Clerk where she worked on employment discrimination cases. Ms. Crane is currently enrolled in the Immigration and Human Rights clinic where she represents asylum seekers.

Ms. Crane, serves as the President of the National Lawyers Guild, John Brittain UDC Law Chapter, Vice President-Elect of the Black Law Students Association, SBA, Academic Chair and a member of the BLSA, Mock Trial Team.

GJC 2017 Panel Discussion: Fighting for Immigrant Women and Children in Detention — A National Volunteer Movement

Moderator: Professor Lindsay M. Harris, Co-Director, UDC-DCSL Immigration &Human Rights Clinic
Panelists: Carmen Jones, Liana Elizabeth Montecinos, and Makeda Crane, third-year law students

This panel provided background on the detention of immigrant children and their parents in the United States, and explained the volunteer response – massive law student and volunteer engagement in “on the ground” advocacy within the detention centers in Texas.

Professor Harris and former clinic students who accompanied her co-director, Kristina Campbell, on a service-learning trip for alternative spring break 2017 shared stories and accounts of working within family detention centers, and provided ideas for engagement in working with detained immigrants more broadly.

The following is a brief summary of their conversation, based on notes taken by third-year law student Farah Faroul.

The ProblemNo Family Detention

Tens of thousands of women and children have arrived in the United States in recent years, seeking asylum from the rampant violence of the Northern Triangle (El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras). Honduras has recently had the highest murder rate in the world, and a high level of violence perpetrated by transnational criminal organizations, known as “gangs” or “maras.” Femicide — the killing of women and girls — is often the highest in the world and impunity for violence against women is widespread. This has created a humanitarian refugee crisis.

Student panelist, Carmen Diaz, explained that immigrants from the Northern Triangle are often called “three times wet,” meaning they are immigrants in Mexico and the United States. They are poorly treated wherever they go because of this status. The U.S. government imprisons them, but they are really the victims of a humanitarian refugee crisis of great proportions.  In an earlier blog post, written after a service-learning trip to the Karnes Family Detention Center, I argued that these mothers should be viewed as “sheroes” going to extraordinary lengths to protect their children from violence.

Under U.S. and international law, the violent conditions faced by women and children should give rise to a legitimate claim for asylum, but the U.S. government has instituted draconian policies to stem the tide of asylum seekers:

  • A public information campaign through radios and TVs to discourage Guatemalans, Salvadorians and Hondurans from leaving the country by warning them that they will be detained and deported if they reached the U.S. and highlighting the dangers of the journey.
  • Increased support for Mexican border authorities to send people back. This is called the “Southern Border Plan.”
  • Increased efforts to intercept women and children at the border and send them to “family” detention centers pending deportation proceedings as a deterrent to others.

According to Professor Harris, this policy started under President George W. Bush and although President Obama ended family detention in 2009, his Administration reinstituted the policy in 2014. President Trump’s anti-immigration rhetoric and policies did not create the problem, but they have certainly exacerbated it.

Current Conditions

Arrests of immigrant women increased by 35% in 2017. In the three months from January to March 2017, 292 pregnant women were detained.

Conditions at the detention centers are abysmal. There is limited medical or dental care, and poor feminine hygiene, especially in the custody of CBP, for women’s reproductive needs. Access to nutritious food and water is poor, education is inadequate, and translation services for indigenous languages are limited. This exacerbates PTSD and other mental health problems.  There have been reports of attempted suicide as well as sexual assault within the detention centers.

Most centers are located in remote areas with limited access to attorneys and resources.  Artesia, New Mexico was a “deportation mill” located in a former custom and border control training barracks. There were no attorneys within a 3 hour drive.  Karnes City Detention Center in Texas is run by a private prison contractor. It holds 1158 women and children. The South Texas Family Residential Center in Dilley, Texas is another privately run center with capacity for up to 2,400 mothers and children.  Berks County Residential Center in Pennsylvania is run by the county, and holds up to 96 mothers and children.

Service-Learning TRipVolunteers making a difference

Women who are incarcerated are given an opportunity to avoid deportation by undergoing a “credible fear” interview to establish their threshold eligibility for asylum. However, a woman is much more likely to receive a positive credible fear determination if she is prepared and accompanied by an attorney before and during the interview. The legal standards are technical and confusing.

More than 35 law schools, 800 law students, and thousands of volunteers have gone on trips to Dilley and Karnes. Their representation has changed the dynamic for women and children, helping them to establish credible fear and post bond (another process that ICE makes more difficult than it should be) so they can leave the detention center and live with family or friends while awaiting immigration proceedings.

The student panelists who participated in a spring break volunteer trip described it as a transformative exerience. They are keenly aware that Latinos are not properly represented in politics and law.  18% (58 million people) of the U.S. population is Latino.  Approximately 11 million of them are undocumented.  Yet there are very few Latino attorneys or elected officials.  Until that changes, U.S. policy toward immigrants is not likely to improve.

The Visitation Room — A Poetic Reflection on Detention

Makeda Crane was so moved by the experience that she composed a powerful poem, The Visitation Room. It goes like this…

The dim fluorescent lights hang over her head and life

Nothing lives in the four walled corner called a room but dust

And the interrogation must begin again in this private prison

Before the border crossing….. and now in detention she is asked what is your persecution?

Is not a defense in America, in the eyes of our law –we are not blind and neither is our justice, humankind has tiers, here

Your trail of tears will not suffice…. You look indigenous, am I right?

These lands no longer belong to you anymore we won the war

So we make the rules that you have to adhere to

“Remember the Alamo” is still the cry across this land

So…..we need a little more persuasion if you are not Caucasian

If your name is too ethnic to properly pronounce in English, announce yourself before you knock on our doors

Are not open for everyone…so if you wouldn’t mind

Tell me this time?

Why are you here?

Show me your scars in sequential order; tell me the raw story of your family’s slaughter

And I’ll tell you if it can fit inside our box neatly with no fuss

Constructed to filter “you people out” nicely packaged – we have parameters here

Yes, we discriminate in America, Protected Grounds Only

On 6 different occasions you fled in fear?

Is it credible, reasonable?

What was your crime?

Are you indigenous, African, Garifuna, of the Darker- skinned kind?

What is your political opinion? Your party affiliation? Were you the victim of sexual violence or forced gang extortion/initiation?

Isn’t every woman treated like property in your homeland? What makes you different from the next woman?

Without hesitation and too much emotion, were you persecuted since you were a kid?

Is this your first bid?

Where are the marks your husband etched into on your back?

I am trying to help you, get you on the right track

We’re having a problem with your lack of details:

Now, Just a second don’t get indignant……you’re telling me there’s nothing more you can share

And that you can’t return back there

But who told you, you would be welcome here?

Let me be honest:  you shared your trauma but I don’t think the judge will say it is enough

So do your best, pray to your god, and I wish you the best of luck!

Carmen Jones

Carmen Jones

3rd year law student

Carmen is a third year law student at the UDC David A. Clarke School of Law. She was drawn to the law school because of the strong clinical emphasis. In Spring 2017, Carmen worked as a student attorney with Law Students in Court in the criminal law clinic. She also traveled to Karnes family detention center as part of the service-learning program. At Karnes, she used her Spanish language skills to assist immigrant detainees with preparing for their credible fear interviews with asylum officers. This semester, as a student attorney in the Immigration and Human Rights Clinic, Carmen is representing an asylum seeker from Honduras in his application for asylum.

Prior to attending law school, Carmen served in the US Navy for 3 ½ years and as a police sergeant with the Miami-Dade Police Department for more than 14 years. Carmen took an early retirement because she believes that police departments nation wide are becoming too militarized. Based on Carmen’s experience, she believes that the key to safe neighborhoods, and less crime, is the concept of community oriented policing – a partnership between the police and the public.

Carmen was Honduras and immigrated to this country as a young girl. Being an immigrant, and seeing how the rhetoric in this nation has become so anti-immigrant has also awakened a passion in Carmen advocate for her immigrant sisters and brothers. Besides advocating against the militarization of police departments, another of her goals is to advocate for those millions of immigrants that are being currently criminalized by this new administration. Carmen holds close to her at all times the truth that this nation is a nation that was founded and built by immigrants.

Liana Elizabeth Montecinos

Liana Elizabeth Montecinos

3rd year law student

Liana is a Senior Paralegal at Benach Collopy LLP where she assists the attorneys in preparing applications and court filings in all of the firm’s practice areas. She is also a third year law student at UDC David A. Clarke School of Law who aspires to become an immigration attorney. At UDC Law, Liana is the President of the Latino Law Student Association. Liana participated in the Immigration and Human Rights Clinic in Spring 2017, representing a Honduran asylum seeker and her children successfully in immigration court. She now serves as teaching assistant for the Immigration and Human Rights Clinic. Immigration issues are near and dear to Liana’s heart as a Honduran native who came to the United States as a child and was eventually granted asylum.

In addition, Liana is a featured author for Departamento 19, a Honduran newspaper for which she writes in Spanish about immigration and human rights issues, especially those affecting the Honduran community in the U.S.  Departamento 19 has recognized Liana as a five-star Honduran, a prestige bestowed upon the most prominent Hondurans living overseas.  This recognition is due to Liana’s long devotion and passion to help the less fortunate. Liana is the Founder and Executive Director of United for Social Justice (USJ), a non-profit organization devoted to help youth access higher education. Through her work with USJ, she has created and coached soccer teams composed of low-income and at-risk children, tutored, conducted fundraisers to feed the homeless and motivated low-income and at-risk youth to pursue higher education.