Pho to by Joe He rmosa worst fear, though, is that information will be passed on to the Salvadoran government, thereby endangering family members. As a result, few will voice complaints to anyone other than their attorney. The 61 signatures on the letter Moore received are all virtually illegible; the letter explains this was deliberate “because it is humble immigrant people who fear repressive measures.” Because of inmates’ high level of fear of reprisal, I decided to interview only one detainee for this article. Before the interview, each of us had to sign a release form; his release included a clause granting the INS permission to release any details about his case. The form was printed only in English, and the guard who handed it to him didn’t identify its purpose, much less translate its contents although, according to the man I interviewed, he did say, “Are you sure you want to sign this?” When I asked about protesting conditions at el corralon, the man said simply, “Those of us who protest are only a few. A majority of the people are peasants and are frightened.” Officially, juveniles are not held in el corralon \(although some other places. including Laredo, have detention facilattorneys report clients as young as 14 and 15 years old \(boys of military age for long periods. In most cases, the clients had lied about their ages in El Salvador, declaring they were 18 in order to get the sedula, or identification card, which they needed to get out of the country. Once here, they had no means of proving their true age. Proyecto lawyer Claire Cherkasky, who has had three 15-year-old clients from el corralon, says INS procedure seems to be that if the inmates are “borderline,” they’ll be detained. But, she says, “if you talk to them, you know they’re kids.” In June, an 11-year-old boy was released from el corralon, in the custody of the center’s chaplain, Father Lee DaCosta. The boy had been held in the segregation cell for three days before his release. According to the INS, the boy was kept there for his own protection and was free to come and go, but the boy told his attorney that the guards said they were locking him up to punish him for lying about his age. Assertions versus denials, in situations where “proof” is nearly impossible to ascertain: that is part of the system. To some outsiders, conditions at el corralon don’t seem all that terrible not as bad, for instance, as the Texas prison system. But, says Gil Garza, Jr., a paralegal whose father is a private attorney involved in refugee casework, “they forget this is not a prison but a processing center.” El co/Talon functions, as does the entire INS system for processing Salvadoran asylum-seekers, “to create hopelessness.” The government’s treatment of Salvadoran refugees represents an example of the ways in which the letter of the law and the mechanics of bureaucracy can be manipulated to further a specific political perspective. The INS has established a mass of rules, procedures, forms, and deadlines to which undocumented asylum applicants and their lawyers must adhere: these may vary from district to district and from courtroom to courtroom and may be changed without notice. Failure to meet a deadline, to appear. in court on time, to attach a client’s fingerprints to an asylum application, may result in a deportation order. Yet the INS may lose papers,. send hearing notices to the wrong address, fail to forward an asylum application, or neglect to notify lawyers when a client is about to be deported. The Proyecto staff characterizes the INS’s role in the legal process as one of “calculated incompetence.” Cris Greenly-Escobar, a paralegal, explains that the INS is “notorious” for losing papers, “especially G-28s” \(notices of “We now submit all our G-28s in triplicate,” she says. Proyecto also has hand-delivered all its paperwork ever since one asylum application submitted Detainees in el corralon. by mail “either wasn’t received or wasn’t opened” by the due date, and the client was ordered deported. So far, however, no Proyecto clients who have persisted in their asylum claims have actually been deported. Every deportation order is appealed, and with the backlog of cases, few have reached even the first level of appeal. On a case-by-case basis, refugee lawyers see this as the best hope for their clients: to buy time via the legal process, to fight the bureaucracy by using its own tactics, clogging the system with cases and appeals. For attorneys in the Valley, the basic strategy has been to accomplish two tasks: to bond the client out and to obtain a change of venue. Once out on bond, refugees are free to move to other parts of the country; if they can get a change of venue. their asylum applications may be processed in the district to which they move. In almost every case, such a move means an almost indefinite delay before the final hearing, or “trial on the merits,” can be scheduled. The INS has tried a number of tactics to make the lawyers’ work more difficult. These have included actions limiting attorneys’ access to clients in el corral& limiting visiting hours, limiting clients’ access to telephones, confiscating pens, papers, and addresses, moving clients to other detention facilities without notice, “losing” lawyers’ lists of the clients they have requested to interview. Thanks to a class action suit filed by refugee attorneys, however. a restraining order has stopped most of these practices. In December, the INS attempted to attach no-work riders to refugees’ conditions for bond an action which would have severely hurt most asylum applicants’ chances to survive in this country but that, too, was stopped in court. Now the principal focus seems to be on legal procedure. Obtaining a change of venue has become a much more cumbersome, more expensive procedure. Most significantly, asylum claims THE TEXAS OBSERVER 17
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