PORTLAND — Some University of Maine School of Law students willingly spent Christmas behind bars.
They are volunteering at a detention center operated by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement in Laredo, Texas.
The five students, all enrolled in the school’s Refugee and Human Rights Clinic, are part of a group of 10 volunteers helping attorneys and staff with the Laredo Project, a collaboration between the law firm Jones Day and Texas RioGrande Legal Aid.
“Our students are able to take the skills they’ve learned in the classroom and through their cases here in Maine, and put them to good use for the women who are being detained in Texas,” Professor Anna Welch said in a Dec. 20 press release. “The effort reflects the clinic’s dual mission of training future lawyers while engaging in public service.”
Laredo sits on the border with Mexico, and many detainees are women who have fled Latin American countries, Welch said. Increasingly, there are also women who have been in America for years or decades who are facing deportation.
As volunteers, the students help with intake interviews, case reviews and writing motions seeking emergency stays of deportation orders.
“These are people who have been working, paying taxes, and raising children who are U.S. citizens. They were not a priority under the Bush or Obama administrations. But that has changed under President Trump,” Welch said. “Now they are being detained after traffic stops or other routine contact with law enforcement, and they face the very real threat of deportation and separation from their families.”
Next month, Nora Bosworth will make her second trip to Laredo to volunteer. Her first week of service came in July.
Bosworth and student Greta Lozada blogged about their trips last summer, saying even meeting with clients can be challenging because of the layout and conditions at the detention center.
“The women we interviewed seemed particularly shocked to be inside a place that for all intents and purposes resembled a jail,” the women wrote.
Restrictions limited access to the two meeting rooms, so much so that Bosworth and Lozada reported waiting six hours to interview anyone during a day at the detention center.
Both women are fluent in Spanish, and assisted in intake requests for asylum and bond to allow women to rejoin their families. They also sought cancellation of removal orders and wrote assessments on whether clients had grounds to contest deportations.
“The women’s stories varied widely, from harrowing stories of trauma and persecution, to more routine accounts of mothers who had been living and working in the U.S. for years and were apprehended by ICE,” Bosworth said in the press release.
University of Maine law student Nora Bosworth next month will make her second trip to volunteer at a U.S. ICE detention center in Laredo, Texas.
UMaine School of Law Professor Anna Welch: “Our students are able to take the skills they’ve learned in the classroom and through their cases here in Maine, and put them to good use for the women who are being detained in Texas.”