Dilapidated storefronts line the main street of the little-known border town of Dilley, Texas. The flat, tortilla colored landscape features scattered billboards for the disproportionate number of sprawling gas stations and empty motels in the area, vestiges of an oil boom in the 1980s. Now, the forgotten space is home to the South Texas Family Residential Center, the largest family detention center in the United States. The facility, comprised of dozens of disordered tan trailers, sits on a vast plot of land near Dilley town limits, behind a field of light poles and an intimidating chain-link fence.
Moved by my summer internship at the Harvard Immigration and Refugee Clinic (HIRC) and Professor Deborah Anker’s Immigration Policy and Social Change course, I chose to volunteer with the CARA Family Detention Pro Bono Project the week before fall semester classes commenced. My friend and fellow HIRC summer intern, Brianna Rennix, also embarked on the trip. Over the course of the week, the Project worked to represent over four hundred detained mothers seeking asylum in the United States. The vast majority of clients trekked from the Northern Triangle of Central America fleeing traumatic violence, rampant impunity, and pervasive gender discrimination. The almost universal description of a long and arduous journey to the United States speaks to the urgency of circumstances at home and the amount riding on these asylum claims.