Karnes Pro Bono Project About

Most families at Karnes are in a legal process known as “expedited removal.” Detained families are typically forced to undergo an interview formally known as the Credible Fear Interview (CFI) or Reasonable Fear Interview (RFI) to determine eligibility for asylum or protection. If granted a positive fear finding, families may be eligible for release from detention. Upon release, families continue fighting their asylum claims as the government continues to push for their removal. Negative results from the CFI or RFI can can lead to deportation. Deported migrants are put at a heightened risk of violence and danger, as they are sent back to places from which they fled persecution, including torture, physical and sexual abuse, psychological abuse, death threats, and other harm.

Karnes Pro Bono Project volunteers provide services directly to detained families in the Karnes family detention center under RAICES’ staff supervision. While the greatest volunteer demand is for Spanish speaking attorneys who specialize in detained immigration work and asylum law, we accept and train volunteers from many professional backgrounds, such as law students, graduate students, public servants, or activists. Additionally, volunteer mental health professionals, specifically licensed clinical social workers and psychologists, provide vital expertise by performing psychological evaluations in support of families’ asylum claims. Opportunities for remote volunteering may also be available depending on your expertise, ability to commit, and our needs.

As of October 2019, ICE detains male families consisting of fathers with minor sons at Karnes. As a volunteer, you will have our team as a support system, but due to the high volume of clients we provide pro bono services to, supervision is at a minimum. The environment at the detention center is unpredictable and fast paced because the legal proceedings are time sensitive. The detained setting inherently creates barriers to access to counsel. It also compounds harm caused by traumatic events in our clients’ home countries and along the journey to the U.S. It is important to understand that survivors in detention face continued harm due to lack of adequate medical and mental health care, family separation, the lack of access to information and communication in their own language, and the deprivation of autonomy inherent to incarceration. Adaptability, patience, and a trauma informed approach are required from everyone. Each meeting with a client in detention can range between about 15 minutes to 2 hours. Volunteers must balance quantity and quality effectively, while centering and respecting the autonomy of the families we work with. At times, our team must “hurry up and wait” as we are forced to rely on the private prison contractors who staff the detention center to bring in families for urgent meetings.

All volunteers must be able to commit to volunteering from Monday to Thursday with an anticipated schedule of 9:00 AM to 8:00 PM CST in the detention center. Volunteers pay their own expenses including lodging. Car-pooling with RAICES staff from San Antonio, Texas to Karnes can be requested if needed.

If you wish to volunteer with the Karnes Pro Bono Project, please use the sign up form.

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