Challenging Injustice, Advancing Human Rights

The Unitarian Universalist Service Committee advances human rights through grassroots collaborations.

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Detained But Not Forgotten

August 12, 2014

Congress recently went on summer recess without passing any significant legislation to ameliorate conditions for the thousands of people — many of them children — arriving at the U.S.-Mexico border seeking refuge. While legislation has stalled, immigrants’ needs have not. UUSC is surveying the situation and taking strategic steps to support people — particularly women — in immigration detention.

Through a new partnership with the Refugee and Immigration Center for Education and Legal Services (RAICES) in Texas, UUSC is working to ensure that women in detention can adequately access their legal rights and find the support they need to navigate what can be a scary and disorienting system. Many women crossing the border get apprehended by armed border agents, are put into infamous “ice boxes” (cold cells), and land in one of the many immigration detention centers that Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) contracts out to private prison companies.

Based in San Antonio, RAICES is a crucial link between immigrants crossing the border and vital resources for legal and other assistance. Such a link is more important than ever: the number of immigrants held in detention has increased significantly in the past 10 years, climbing to over 400,000 people per year, approximately 25 percent of whom are detained in Texas. RAICES does outreach to several detention centers in the area and is a leading voice in shaping debate and raising awareness in San Antonio and Austin. For asylum seekers and victims of torture seeking protection in the United States, RAICES’s work increases their likelihood of receiving asylum and being able to live free from torture and other forms of inhumane and degrading treatment. 

UUSC’s project with RAICES focuses on the T. Don Hutto Residential Center, an ICE detention center for female detainees. In addition to outreach to women in detention, a case manager will connect them to services in San Antonio and Austin. Because of the working relationship between ICE and RAICES, ICE refers women at Hutto to RAICES when they are eligible for release while their cases are being processed. UUSC will support RAICES in placing them in temporary housing in San Antonio.

Providing culturally competent and trauma-informed case management and a short-term housing option for female asylum seekers at Hutto will contribute to minimizing many of the barriers to services and legal representation that female detainees currently face. In the face of deep structural problems with the current immigration detention system, RAICES is modeling a community-based alternative to detention that, if successful, could inform vital reform of ICE and be replicated elsewhere.

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