I arrived Friday 11/21 and found my way to the Department of Homeland Security Federal Law Enforcement Training Center, in Artesia, NM. I had to use the little black phone in the security building to call up an ICE agent to send a van to take me to the family detention center. Once there, I was led to a window-less trailer that served as the “interview” room to meet with clients. A little slither of space (about 3 feet wide and 12 feet long) was carved out with cubicle dividers as the attorneys’ work area. There, two 6 feet long tables were set up with power strips for computers/printers. Jetpacks (mobile hot spots) were hung on walls with log in information for use, as there is no wifi. There were two attorneys and one paralegal who had been there since 7 a.m. Saturday. Among the attorneys is a federal public defender from Oregon, who also had worked as a Guantanamo attorney. He had been in Artesia for 2 weeks already, along with his daughter, a paralegal from San Francisco. Turned out the federal public defender is good friends with my law school Criminal Procedure professor. Small world.
I saw my first client, a 22 year old with a 5 year old daughter from Honduras. They had been held at the detention center for 5 months. My intake was with an attorney who spoke fluent Spanish. I watched the client as she spoke to my attorney partner. One of the first things I noticed was that the client had no life in her eyes. They had this glaze about them. She answered our questions and told her story. After our intake was over, and we explained what we were doing, she thanked us. I shook her hand as I said “Good-bye,” and she said “Gracias,” over and over and over, and then she cried. I got a little choked up too.