Organization provides pro bono legal services to immigrant families in Dilley detention center

SAN ANTONIO – Earlier this year, the family separation crisis on the border grabbed the nation’s attention. While it’s been shoved to the side as other issues have taken center stage, the Dilley Pro Bono Project is hoping people don’t forget about their fight to help immigrant families.

“We want to make sure people know it’s not over. Many of these families are still detained in Dilley and are still suffering like many other asylum-seeking families,” said Katy Murdza, advocacy coordinator with the Dilley Pro Bono Project. 

In April, thousands of immigrant children were separated from their families under the Trump administration’s zero-tolerance immigration policy. After an international uproar, President Donald Trump signed an executive order in June that stopped the separation

Murdza said families they help are still living in fear. 

“They are living in fear and trying to recover from this trauma that our government has unnecessary put them through, but they really can’t because they are in this detention center setting instead of a center where they can heal,” Murdza said. 

The Dilley Pro Bono Project offers legal services for immigrant mothers and their children detained at the South Texas Family Residential Center in Dilley. 

“We work inside the detention center. We can be in there up to 13 hours per day,” Murdza said. 

Murdza said the organization has 10 people on staff and about 30 volunteers every week working on hundreds of cases. 

“They come in on Sundays and pay their expenses and travel from all over the country to Dilley. They stay in hotels in Dilley, and they go to our orientation for about four hours on Sunday evening and they work Monday morning,” Murdza said. 

The federal government said the facility meets or exceeds the standards for caring for families. Murdza said speaking with families is a different story. 

“We see a lot of behavioral regression in kids, kids who start wetting the bed again, start biting other kids,” Murdza said. 

Murdza is not sure what the future will hold for immigrant families, but they are not going away or giving up. 

“We are fighting for these families who have already been through so much in their home countries and the journey with horrible conditions at the border, and then were separated by the government and went through unimaginable trauma from that,” Murdza said. 

ICE released the following statement:

“U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) takes very seriously the health, safety and welfare of those in our care.  ICE is committed to ensuring the welfare of all those in the agency’s custody, including providing access to necessary and appropriate medical care. Comprehensive medical care is provided to all individuals in ICE custody. Staffing includes registered nurses and licensed practical nurses, licensed mental health providers, mid-level providers that include a physician’s assistant and nurse practitioner, a physician, dental care, and access to 24-hour emergency care. Pursuant to our commitment to the welfare of those in the agency’s custody, ICE spends more than $250M annually on the spectrum of healthcare services provided to those in our care.”

As detailed in the June 2017 DHS Inspector General’s report, the family residential centers are “clean, well-organized, and efficiently run” and the agency was found to be “addressing the inherent challenges of providing medical care and language services and ensuring the safety of families in detention.”

About the Author:

Tiffany Huertas is a reporter for KSAT 12 known for her in-depth storytelling and her involvement with the community.