It’s difficult to convey the urgency with which our team had to approach each task on the ground at Karnes during our time there. Everything was time sensitive. Every assignment involved the prospect of serious detriment to highly vulnerable people if not properly completed. Identifying the appropriate order of operations was critical to achieving any favorable outcomes since many projects required multiple steps. With only a few days during which we could conduct face to face meetings with our clients, each step of representation had to be carefully planned out so that each visit to the detention center resulted in progress towards one of our representation goals.
We set up a sort of “command central,” in a vacant office at Raices. I was stationed here with my laptop, and the rest of the team took up residency in various corners of the building, wherever they could find a chair and a work surface. I spent most of Tuesday morning sketching out decision trees for both of our cases, trying to figure out the contingencies that would affect case strategy for each. Meanwhile the students filed into my office on a rotating basis, requesting an additional assignment from the “master list” each time they had wrapped up a prior assignment. Imagine a sort of advocacy relay race—each team member working furiously on some aspect of the case and then hurriedly tossing it to a colleague to begin the next phase of representation. I wish we had recorded a full inventory of the specific assignments undertaken throughout the duration of the trip, but many of those assignments had barely rolled off my tongue or been hastily scribbled onto a post-it-note before one of our elite advocacy athletes sprinted into my office and disappeared with that task on her shoulders. Since no comprehensive list exists, here is a snapshot from approximately 3:00 PM on Tuesday the 17th:
1) EOIR: Get copies of all court filings from EOIR.
2) BIA: See if they can tell us how to get a copy of file mid process. Call the BIA FOIA and determine whether we can request FOIA expedite. Identify timeframe.
3) Country Conditions: Try to get conditions on Mam ethnic minority from UC Hastings and begin drafting a comprehensive Country Conditions summary for Guatemala.
4) Country Conditions: Begin drafting a country conditions summary for Guatemala that reflects Gang-violence and DV, and emphasizes lack of state protection.
5) Draft Affidavit(s): Draft questions to get testimony from Ms. Smith that tends to show ineffective assistance of counsel by “pro bono” practitioner who charged her $4,000 and then failed to timely-file appellate brief during briefing schedule.
6) FOIA Request to the Board of Immigration Appeals: Draft, print and bring to detention center for signature by client in the event that there’s no quicker way to get copies of documents.
7) Medical Problem: Detainee was refused Asthma medication by GEO. Write letter to GEO requesting evaluation by the detainee’s treating physician for an Albuterol prescription. Must be printed and ready for client’s signature on Wednesday morning.
8) Wal-Mart Mission: Get data reader that’s compatible with the sim cards in the client’s property locker so that we can retrieve corroborating evidence of her claim.
9) I-589: Start prefilling one in a PDF for Ms. Green’s case. Then put it on a flashdrive to bring into Karnes to keep working on it on Wednesday while at the facility.
10) Brief for Ms. Green: Start working on it on Tuesday. Bring all useful cases, reference docs, etc. on a flashdrive on Wednesday since there’s no internet in detention center.
11) Phone Cards: Determine how we can remain in contact with the two detainees while they remain in detention. Inquire with RAICES staff about this and buy phone cards, etc. to facilitate our future contact.
12) Psychologist: Figure out how to get GEO to allow us to obtain psych records for Ms. Green and her kids. Lay the foundation for this by drafting an ROI/ Consent for Release to submit early on Wednesday morning to GEO. (Find out who pays the psychologists at Karnes to figure out who to solicit. We will try to get all existing records and hope to liaise with the psychologist to get other info in the future.) ROI must be printed and ready to sign on Wednesday so it can go straight to GEO after client signs it.
13) How can we get a notary in Karnes tomorrow?
14) How can we get Ms. Green’s case lodged? And/or, will San Antonio allow withdrawal as attorney of record after lodging?
Perhaps even more impressive than the list was the enthusiasm with which all of the students approached each new individual assignment. The last ones were given out that night around 11:15 PM, just before we left the office and returned to our hotel. No one complained as our hours got longer each day, finally reaching an impressive crescendo on Wednesday night, when I clocked out at 1:30 AM and clocked back in again at 5:00 AM on Thursday so that we could leave at the crack of dawn for one last lightning visit to the detention facility. (We had hoped to get all of our final affidavits executed the day before, but were not allowed to leave the detention facility to print our documents—or, for that matter, to eat, necessitating a final visit just hours before I was supposed to be on my flight back to NC.)
The writings that have been generated by our team on this blog portray a frightening theme of a for-profit detention facility’s unapologetic obstruction of detainees’ access to counsel. There is another theme that has not been discussed yet, but that needs to be celebrated. That is the demonstrated ability of the six women who accompanied me to Karnes to put the needs of the many ahead of individual needs and to work tirelessly towards a common goal. Before embarking on the journey to Karnes, I had been apprehensive about how the extreme stress of the trip would affect group morale, work conditions and how it might strain relations between roommates and classmates. That was the only unfounded anxiety that accompanied me to Karnes. The professionalism, collegiality and diligence that were the hallmarks of this group’s approach to representation were truly remarkable. I would go into battle with them again any day.