Artesia Resource Page
The American Immigration Council, the American Civil Liberties Union, the National Immigration Project of the National Lawyers Guild, and the National Immigration Law Center, in collaboration with Van Der Hout, Brigagliano & Nightingale and Jenner & Block, sued the government to stop deportations at DHS’ new family detention facility in Artesia, NM. The lawsuit calls Artesia a “deportation mill,” created to send Central American mothers and children home to face certain harm, without any meaningful opportunity to be heard. These women and children have a right to apply for asylum and to the assistance of counsel, among other protections. Their heartbreaking stories of violence, death, rape, and other abuse suggest that the vast majority deserve to stay in this country.
But the lawsuit alleges that government officials created Artesia to limit successful asylum claims, whether or not such individuals would face persecution in their home countries. DHS did this by creating a new, more stringent “expedited removal” system that results in the denial of meritorious asylum claims. The new expedited removal policy was outlined by President Obama in a June 30 letter to Congress that directed DHS to take “aggressive steps to surge resources to our Southwest border to deter both adults and children from this dangerous journey … and quickly return unlawful migrants to their home countries.” As Artesia’s supervisor yelled one day to a room full of families, “Our job is to get them deported.”
The government’s new policies at Artesia also create a host of procedural obstacles for asylum applicants, in violation of due process, the immigration statute, and the governing regulations. This resource page collects [number] declarations of lawyers who have first-hand experience trying to provide effective representation to Artesia detainees, as well as lawyers who observed credible fear reviews in Arlington Immigration Court. Together, these affidavits paint a bleak picture. As lawyer Daniel Rodgers said, “My government is crushing the spirts of brave women and their children through a combination of denial of due process and stressful living conditions."
Read the Press Release
Read the Full Complaint
Excerpts from Declarations
When [my client] discussed her fear of gangs in El Salvador, the asylum officer seemed impatient and began to rush through the interview.
Every woman I met was forced to care for her children and discuss her case simultaneously.… Mothers were forced to recount very traumatic and upsetting details of rape, violence and kidnapping in the presence of their young children. Women were forced to attend court hearings in front of immigration judges with their children running around the room.
Each and every applicant that I met with or represented during an official proceeding with an Immigration Judge or asylum officer had a child or children with them at the time, often in their laps. Many of the children were sick, and the mothers were often required to recount gruesome acts of violence, sometimes rape, while holding or trying to care for their children. There was no one to care for the children or any place that they could be left while these proceedings were taking place.
In every case I reviewed where the detainee requested to speak with an attorney, the asylum officer merely asked, "Do you want to continue or not?" In none of the interview summaries I reviewed did the asylum officer state that the person could postpone the interview in order to obtain legal representation.
The women reported to me that they were subject to various types of abuse. They overheard ICE officers refer to them as animals. During mealtime, one woman overheard an ICE officer say, “Look at the animals eat.” Women stated that ICE officers yelled at them and told them that they shouldn’t take food out of turn. I also observed mothers using small hand towels to keep their children warm in the over-air conditioned detention facility.
[T]he credible fear interview I attended was conducted like an affirmative asylum interview, rather than a credible fear interview. Based upon over 13 years of experience with the asylum process, I believe my client established her credible fear within the first 45 minutes of a more than three hour interview. The asylum officer asked questions which were designed to get my client to identify her particular social group. This level of questioning was unnecessary in light of the past persecution to which she had already testified, as well as her articulated fear of future persecution.
I told the ICE officer I wanted to speak to the supervisor-in-charge . . . [The supervisor] stood directly in front of me and vociferously and loudly proclaimed to me (and everyone in the room) that “I want you to know that all of these people are going to be deported” and that “Our job is to get them deported and there’s maybe one in 1,000 entitled to stay in the United States, and the rest are going to go.”
In one case, the asylum officer made a negative credible fear finding where a woman claimed that the man who murdered the father of her [children] had threatened to murder her children. The woman did not reveal all the details of the threats because the boys were in the room with her at the time.
In one case, an asylum officer told a woman that the domestic violence she suffered several years ago was irrelevant to her claim, even though she was fleeing continued persecution on the part of her abuser.
Some of the immigration judges conducting negative [credible fear interview] review hearings via tele-video in Artesia have taken the position that attorneys are not allowed to speak during those hearings.
[M]any women reported to me that they had very limited access to telephones. They had to wait in long lines to make calls, and their calls were limited to three minutes. They reported they were forced to clean in order to “earn” their phone calls. Some women told me that they were denied calls when the ICE officers were upset with them. The women’s inability to make phone calls limited the capacity of attorneys to properly prepare clients and precluded clients from calling their attorneys to give them updated case information.
While I was meeting with my client, there was an ICE officer present in the room the entire time. I was not able to meet with my client in a confidential place.
I observed an attitude among the ICE officers that reflected a belief that none of the detainees had viable legal claims, and that all of them would be detained for a relatively brief period, and then removed.
Despite the fact that many children have chronic diarrhea and fevers, the mothers I met with consistently told me that the medical clinic at FLETC would only tell the mothers to give their children water to help them get well. In fact, when I was at the FLETC, another attorney on our team observed a child who was so overcome with fever that her skin was incredibly red, almost purple, and the child was limp in the mother’s arms.
The children and babies also did not have adequate clothing. I saw multiple babies and toddlers without any type of blankets, shivering while their mothers held them close to their bodies for warmth. The mothers used tiny washcloths as makeshift blankets. I told multiple officers that I would buy blankets for the babies because they were getting sicker and they were shivering, and I was told that they would not allow me to give the blankets to the women and their children.
[An ICE Supervisor] told me it was his job to “move these people through here.” When I tried again to explain that my client had a positive credible fear finding, he said that did not matter because he has seen immigration judges reverse such findings. I asked whether he would consider bond for anyone, and he said no.
The attorney desks were located about 10-15 feet away from the ICE officers and so could easily be overheard by them. ICE officers approached us every hour, even during client meetings, to conduct head counts. In addition to the ICE officers, other detainees and their children (who were with their mothers at all times) could overhear attorney-client conversations, which were supposed to be confidential.
We were unable to speak directly to detainees who had not requested to speak with us and/or whose names we did not have already because ICE did not want us "soliciting" clients. We explained that we were volunteers and that we were not charging for our services, but we were still not allowed to speak to anyone not on our list. We provided a list of names to ICE, but we were unable to see a majority of the women on the list either because ICE was unable to locate them or because they were in a consular, asylum, or court interview without counsel.
I have been able to speak with [my client] only sporadically because the ICE officers at the Artesia facility do not permit her to use a phone at any set times, and when she is given access, permit her to remain on the phone only for short periods of time. During my first phone call with [my client] . . . I was able to speak with her for only 9 minutes and 39 seconds when she called me after hours at 6:56 pm EST. After that, an ICE agent forced her to end the call. The approximately ten additional conversations I had with Jane were similar. I had great difficulty preparing her case given the erratic and insufficient time that ICE agents allowed her to use the phone. I received a call from Jane, who told me that ICE was trying to force her to agree to deportation and saying that she could go to jail for ten years and be separated from her son if she did not sign for travel documents.
I am 62 years old. When I left Artesia and was driving to the airport to fly back to Alaska, I started crying in the car. I do not recall the last time I cried.
Visiting Artesia was a discouraging and depressing experience because my government is crushing the spirts of brave women and their children through a combination of denial of due process and stressful living conditions
My client and I had no privacy while we worked on her declaration. ICE officials were constantly walking around us. We could hear children crying. We also heard an ICE officer reprimanding a mother because her child was too loud. There were so many distractions that I cannot be certain I heard my client’s whole story.
When I returned to the “law library,” I met with other women who also had received positive credible fear determinations. As I reviewed their paperwork, I began to realize that some of them had signed for a prompt hearing. When I asked why, they said they did not understand. They thought that if they signed, they would get out sooner.
What was particularly troubling regarding the legal process was that, other than a handful of attorneys, there were no legal resources to help these women and children through what is an incredibly challenging process. This complicated process of determining whether an individual has a “credible fear” was made even more challenging given the speed with which the government was pushing families through.
The lack of childcare at the Artesia facility further complicates matters. . . . One colleague described how she had to beg for an Asylum Officer to “babysit” while a mother was interviewed so that she could speak freely about how one of her children was the product of rape. Another mother would not disclose death threats against her children while they were present at the interview because she did not want them to be frightened.
The court had not posted any information about the Artesia docket. The courtrooms were locked. Judge Hladylowycz was holding master calendar hearings and bond hearings. After watching those hearings, I asked Judge Hladylowycz if I could attend the review of negative credible fear hearings. Judy Hladylowycz told me that those proceedings were now closed. She said that someone had brought the issue of public access to Artesia review hearings to the attention of EOIR Headquarters and that EOIR Public Affairs Office had issued instructions to close all Artesia hearings.