Where children are prisoners and crayons are contraband.

As an immigration lawyer, a week of immersion in immigration and refugee law is a dream, but as a human, I dread the crying children.

The Central American refugee crisis has sent tens of thousands of people, primarily from El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras, through Mexico and across the US border. These refugees, the vast majority of them women and children, are escaping extreme violence and abuse in their homes and communities. Their path to safety in the US is littered with danger.

For many who make it, another brutal reality awaits – family detention in facilities across the southwest US, and deportation back to the danger they left behind.

Many of the refugees are victims of gender-based violence, and Sanctuary’s attorneys are eager to help. Carmen Rey, Deputy Director of Sanctuary’s Immigration Intervention Project is in Texas this week to provide legal service support to detained mothers and children at the South Texas Family Residential Center in Dilley, Texas, which houses up to 2,400 detained immigrant families.

This is the first of three posts Carmen will be sharing from Dilley. Check back throughout the week to follow her journey and hear about the mothers and children she defends.

As an immigration lawyer, the prospect of a week of complete immersion in immigration and refugee law is a dream, but as a human, I dread the crying children.

Starting in 2014, in response to the influx of refugee mothers and children from Central America arriving at the US border in search of protection, private prison subcontractors working with the Department of Homeland Security created a series of detention facilities in isolated areas across the southern US.

In these jails, these refugees are held far from their families and from legal resources, and in conditions that sometimes violate basic standards of decency. As a lawyer, that all makes me furious, and so the prospect of helping them fight against their continued detention is energizing.

But what scares me is that, because of the arbitrary rules of these jails, there is little we can do to comfort the children.

The innocuously named South Texas Family Residential Center is one of these jails. Located in Dilley, Texas, over an hour away from the nearest city, San Antonio, it is one of the largest civil detention facilities in the US, and it is where I will be volunteering my time for the next week.

During these seven days, in a warren of small rooms in a trailer in the middle of south Texas, volunteer attorneys and legal assistants from across the US, will spend long days meeting with hundreds of refugee mothers and their children. Guided by the on-the-ground expertise of the CARA Project, we will work to prevent these families from being immediately deported back to places where they face severe violence and even death.

In these rooms, we will ask these families the horrors that brought them to our borders, and get the details that allow us to help them win their freedom. And that will ease my fury and make me proud to be a lawyer.

But in the telling of these horrors, the mothers will cry. And when children see their mothers cry, the children will cry. But because these children are prisoners of our government, the attorneys and legal assistant volunteers can’t so much as give these children pack of crayons to distract them.

In the South Texas Residential Center, children are prisoners and crayons are contraband.

And so, watching the children cry, I will feel my eyes fill with tears and feel powerless to help a young child stop crying. And as a human being, that is what scares me.

Carmen Rey is an attorney and the Deputy Director of Sanctuary’s Immigration Intervention Project

Running a Marathon to Make the World Safe for Girls

Josephine shares why she is training and fundraising as a member of Sanctuary’s marathon team: to make the world a safe place for girls, everywhere.

My name is Josephine Ngong-Tawe and I am from Cameroon, Africa. I have lived in the US for 20 years. I am an optometrist by profession and I own FRANKLIN FAMILY EYECARE in Somerset, NJ. In my “free time,” I am a wife to Wilson and mother to my 3 beautiful kids: Tawe, Eka and Beri.

On Sunday, November 1st, I will run 26.1 miles through the streets of New York City as a member of Sanctuary’s TCS NYC Marathon team. I have spent the past months raising money and training for this run of a lifetime.

I heard about Sanctuary through my good friend Margaret Ngunang. She is a clinical social worker at Sanctuary’s Sarah Burke House shelter. She introduced me to Sanctuary when she found out I wanted to run the NYC Marathon. And why not run for this worthwhile cause?

A few weeks before joining Sanctuary’s team, I listened to an audio of young girls from my home country of Cameroon who were employed in Kuwait. These young ladies narrated a bone chilling story of finding themselves as unpaid servants, sex slaves and literal prisoners in Kuwaiti households. Their passports confiscated, they were in a foreign country with no knowledge of the language and no means to communicate with the outside world.

One told a story of watching a young lady shot dead by the mistress of the household because she tried to escape. They told about hundreds of young ladies from Africa and south East Asia who have been lured to these countries in the hope of getting jobs with decent salaries to help their families, but instead have found themselves in a situation worse than they could have imagined.

In the same week, I found out that one of my young patients was raped on her college campus. Another young lady I work with has a scar on her neck from a knife wound from an ex-boyfriend; an acquaintance was stabbed to death by her fiancée. The stories go on…

I am moved to run in support of Sanctuary for Families, because I believe their mission looks at the complete picture through advocacy, outreach, children’s services, legal and economic empowerment and shelter for those displaced.

My goal as a member of Sanctuary’s charity team is to raise $3,000 in support of their work with survivors, and I am hoping to make it to this goal in these last 2 weeks before the race.

The more we do, the more awareness we bring to the plight of many who live through this every day. We are all only a few degrees removed from someone who is going through or has gone through this situation.

Ultimately, if even one child’s future plight can be completely reversed through Sanctuary’s services, I will consider my running all these hundreds of miles since July worthwhile.

You can support Josephine and her race for Sanctuary! Donate today.

October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month

Join us to educate and advocate

Domestic violence is pervasive, and affects everyone. In the United States alone, 15.5 million children live in families where domestic violence is perpetrated.

We recognize that serving children and teens is critical to breaking the cycle of abuse. Check back throughout Domestic Violence Awareness Month as we post updates from our Children’s and Youth Services Program staff about the successes and challenges in serving our youngest clients.

In the meantime, you can take action to educate others about the realities of domestic violence. Join us.