“I had a deeply powerful experience volunteering with the El Paso Immigrant Collaborative (EPIC). I, along with three of my colleagues, were able to volunteer for a week with EPIC in El Paso and prove on-the-ground support to the team there. El Paso is home to 7% of all detained immigrants and hosts an extremely challenging immigration court jurisdiction for immigrants in proceedings there. While on the ground with EPIC, we were able to gain a deeper understanding of the legal landscape at the border in Texas, and be a part of a radical project centered around liberation from detention.
While in El Paso, we worked in three detention centers, conducting intakes with 92 individuals. Through our work, EPIC was able to place 10 individuals for parole representation and 12 individuals for bond representation. Through our work, I learned about the deleterious effects of the Migrant Protection Protocol (MPP), its enforcement in Ciudad Juarez/El Paso and how it subjects asylum seekers to possible extortion, kidnapping, violence, and torture by Mexican police and cartels. Volunteering with EPIC challenged our team to think about how to take a liberation framework and apply it to our work in Northern California.
Through volunteering with EPIC, I learned about the profound value and replicable nature of legal projects structured around liberation and abolition of detention. In California, we find ourselves at a unique juncture with the impending closure of all private prisons. The time with EPIC has given us a deeper understanding of how to use our legal skills and the wealth of pro bono legal service providers in Northern California to liberate immigrants from detention in tandem with scaling up to universal representation.”
“El Paso is a hostile jurisdiction and EPIC is fighting for right to counsel for those detained. I went to the El Paso Processing Center today, a detention facility that imprisons people who are seeking asylum. I interviewed one client today. The detention facilities are like going into Rikers. It is exactly the same type of building, same type of security, same slamming of cell doors, and it’s the same atmosphere. That people are being detained for exercising their right to asylum is very difficult to see and then work within that system.
Today my volunteer colleague and I drove 2 hours from El Paso to West Texas detention facility. It’s in the middle of the desert with nothing around. The experiences I heard today are the ones you have heard in the news. It’s devastating. Before coming to this facility, people have been held in other makeshift facilities, in tiny rooms packed with 70+ people with one toilet where everyone turns around to respect the person using it. They were given some water and one burrito for the whole day so that it takes weeks to actually go to the bathroom. It was so bad in those facilities that people said that West Texas Detention Facility “wasn’t bad.” Wasn’t bad means one hour of outdoor time during the harshest hours of the sun. We are in the desert. True desert. And their outdoor time is at 1pm. For one hour. But you have to go outside, they tell me, for your own mental health. They sleep in bunk beds in rooms of 100 people. It doesn’t have to be this way. It shouldn’t be this way and this is not normal.”
“It was a humbling and enlightening experience being able to show up and be immediately plugged in to the system you’ve managed to create here. No organization with a mission like yours that serves the volume of people you serve will ever function seamlessly but it’s astounding how well-organized and disciplined you all are considering how new this program is. EPIC is doing critical work on a large scale and I hope that volunteers and resources begin pouring in because that’s the only way this work will ever be sustainable.”
“Volunteering with EPIC was an amazing experience. I really felt that we were an important part of building an incredible project, and that the info we collected and feedback we provided will help not just the individuals we spoke with get free, but also build a bigger movement toward liberation and ending immigration detention in El Paso. Also, as an attorney who works on a detention project in California, it gave me so many ideas for how we can better utilize our resources to do the same locally. Basically y’all rock and I feel super inspired to transform our work and figure out how we dismantle the detention system!”