In early January, on their third day at the Karnes County Residential Center—an immigrant detention center for women and children in Karnes City, TX—Marvin España ’18 and Martyna Kaznowski ’18 were pulled into a last-minute appeal. A mother had just been denied an opportunity to apply for asylum while her children had been approved. The children were scheduled to leave the detention center the next day, and the students had less than 30 minutes to conduct research before a judge would decide the family’s fate. The judge vacated the denial of the woman’s application, and España, Kaznowski, and four other Brooklyn Law School students—Paola Rivera Chaves ’18, Shelby Anderson ’19, Andrea Scheer ’19, and Gabriella Giunta ’19—had just a few minutes to celebrate before moving on to the next case.
Thanks to sponsorship from the Public Service Law Center, six students spent part of winter break in Texas learning the ropes of working with refugees. The students worked with 97 clients over the course of three days at Karnes under the supervision of attorneys from the Refugee and Immigrant Center for Education and Legal Services (RAICES). España reached out to the San Antonio-based nonprofit last fall as part of an effort to revive the Law School’s Immigration Court Observation Project.
“Part of the goal of this trip was to get to the front lines where this is actually happening,” España said.
The students’ main project was to prepare asylum seekers for their “credible fear interviews.” Detained refugees must pass this interview before moving on to the next step to apply for asylum. Many detainees enter those interviews unaware that they must convincingly establish that they had credible fears of persecution based on race, religion, nationality, political opinion, or membership in a particular social group. RAICES works with the detainees to help them highlight the most important parts of their stories.
As part of this effort, students from the Law School asked the detainees questions—in English and Spanish—to tease out details that might be helpful to their applications for asylum. The students said the experience was “intense” and “fast-paced,” as well as a great introduction to the value of client services in immigration law. España and Kaznowski hope to return to the Karnes Center with an even larger group of students this summer.