Marlina Rogers shares her experience after working with detained families at Karnes County Residential Center
Zack Brandwein and I had been working remotely with a client and her three-year-old son at the Karnes County Residential Center, and we had a hearing in front of the immigration judge scheduled for the week of the trip. Most of our efforts and concentration focused on preparing to work with our client, not leaving much time to conjecture ideas about the rest of the trip. We understood some of what the situation at the detention center was like from speaking with our client, other volunteers, and reading news articles. Seeing it in person was, of course, nothing like what I had imagined.
The client we worked with had a somewhat strong case for asylum, I was at least hopeful for her chances of getting out on a lower bond amount from the immigration judge at our hearing. We spent most of our time leading up to the trip coordinating with our client’s sponsor (family that she and her son would live with upon release) to obtain proof of income and residence, preparing motions, and putting together her bond application and supporting documentation. It was a time consuming and sometimes arduous task. Professor McCormick was, of course, instrumental in our preparation for the hearing and was always willing to put in the extra hours with us when we needed her support. At the hearing, our client was released on her own recognizance (without bond). This was the best possible outcome–one that we did not really even consider or prepare for (apparently this happens very rarely). The relief of this kind of success after weeks of strenuous work is a feeling I will probably never forget. Being able to help this family in a meaningful way is the most rewarding experience I have ever been a part of.
The rest of the trip to Karnes is hard to put into words. We met with families fleeing unspeakable and horrific violence. Placing these families in detention is only compounding the trauma they have already experienced. These “detention centers” are prisons, regardless of what they call them, and there are babies and children being held there.
I will carry these emotional experiences–both difficult and rewarding–with me throughout the rest of my personal and professional life. The practical legal experience is undoubtedly the most valuable that I have gained since coming to law school. Forming a professional relationship and representing real clients is something that you cannot learn from a textbook. Additionally, the clinic offers a chance to form professional and personal relationships with fellow law students that you would otherwise never get to know. Working with a small group of students for an entire semester on such emotionally charged issues forms bonds that you are unlikely to encounter elsewhere in the law school curriculum. Stepping outside of the “competitive” law school atmosphere and formal world of academia allowed us to build personal and professional relationships based on more than classroom rhetoric, and I will value these as much as the rest of my experience.