The growing number of Central American child immigrants gathering at the U.S. border is a crisis that has drawn attorneys from around the country. One of them is Glenwood Springs immigration attorney Jennifer Smith. She traveled to Artesia, New Mexico last month, where hundreds of women and children are being detained at a law enforcement training center. Aspen Public Radio’s Marci Krivonen reports.
When attorney Jennifer Smith got word that help was needed in Artesia, she jumped in her car and drove ten hours straight to the small town in southwestern New Mexico.
She was joining a small group of attorneys from all corners of the country to provide free services to women and children facing deportation hearings. She says her goal was to minimize the number of people being deported.
"I think our first response was, well, (let’s do) anything to slow down the process, anything we can do to increase the opportunity the family has to speak to an attorney is the priority."
She says once families meet with attorneys their chances of successfully making an asylum claim increase exponentially. Those eligible for asylum may be permitted to stay in the United States.
By many accounts, these immigrants are escaping gang violence in Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador. Authorities estimate 90,000 children from Central America will arrive in the United States this year. Many are ending up at detention centers like the one in Artesia. Smith says the conditions there are poor.
"They don’t have access to blankets, for example. The air conditioning in these buildings would be cranked up pretty high because it was 106 degrees outside, but they didn’t have blankets, so the little kids would be using these small washcloths to keep warm. Everyone is pretty dehydrated, as well," she says.
The Albuquerque Journal reports U.S. Immigration Customs Enforcement, or ICE, opened the makeshift detention center in June. The facility, which normally serves as a training center for Border Patrol agents, is nearing its 700-person capacity.
Attorney Jennifer Smith of Glenwood Springs plans to travel to New Mexico again in September. She says the experience has forever changed her.