Students visit Karnes County Residential Center in Texas over Spring Break
TU Law Immigrant Rights Project (IRP) students, Zack Brandwein, Ruth Calvillo, Karrie Fields, Marlina Rogers, Jean Roof, Carlie Ruhlman, Tyler Vermillion, and Margaret Wilson, spent spring break working on behalf of detained women and children held at the Karnes County Residential Center near Karnes City, Texas—50 miles southeast of San Antonio. The 76,000 square-foot facility is operated under contract by GEO Group, Inc., a private, for-profit organization, for the United States Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). Detained families are housed, in many cases for months, while they wait for the federal government to decide their fates. In recent years, there have been reports of hunger strikes at the center and allegations of women being sexually assaulted by employees.
Under the supervision of Professor Elizabeth McCormick, Director of the IRP and the Clinical Education Program at TU College of Law, the clinic students worked with more than sixty detained families, all fleeing persecution in Central America, to assist them with applications for bond and their claims for asylum protection.
Jean Roof shares, “My experience at Karnes ignited a fire within me. While I have known for some time that our immigration system is flawed, I do not think I truly understood the magnitude of the problem until now. I am outraged at the treatment that these families—women, children, and babies—endure. These women come to the United States in order to flee horrific situations in their home countries under the false belief that we will accept them with open arms. Instead, they are apprehended by immigration officials, caged in temporary holding cells that are frigid and overcrowded, and taken to detention facilities where they remain for many, many months.”
IRP students had been working with families at the center since the beginning of the semester and successfully advocated in federal immigration court for the release of two detained families and obtained bond reductions from ICE for three other families.
Marlina Delisa said, “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.”
About the Immigrant Rights Project
The Immigrant Rights Project is a one-semester clinical education program in which law students represent non-citizens in immigration matters. Clients include persons seeking asylum in the United States as a result of persecution or fear of persecution in their home countries, as well as non-citizen victims of domestic violence and other crimes, unaccompanied non-citizen minors or other non-citizens subject to removal and immigration detention. Representation may occur in adversarial administrative hearings before immigration judges; in non-adversarial agency interviews; in appeals to the Board of Immigration Appeals; or, as necessary, in appeals to the federal courts. This clinic is offered in both the fall and spring semesters. The IRP provides a combination of practical legal experience, theory, intensive training and supervision not available in most traditional law school courses or legal jobs. The clinic also provides opportunities to engage in action, collaboration, reflection and service that are immensely rewarding and frequently inspiring. It is also a cross-cultural experience. Students learn a great deal about their client’s country and face the challenges and rewards of overcoming the barriers to understanding posed by differences of language and culture.
Read individual students’ experiences from the trip to Karnes City, Texas: