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2016 Paul Marino People’s Lawyer Award Winner–Immigrant Justice
We are pleased to honor National Lawyers Guild attorney Kim Hunter with the 2016 Paul Marino People’s Lawyer Award for her vital work defending women and children refugees fleeing the drug wars and violence of Central America by traveling repeatedly to detention facilities in Artesia, New Mexico, and Dilley, Texas, to build a highly successful project that provides legal representation to women and children detained without counsel while seeking refuge in the United States.
In June 2014, Kim and other immigration attorneys learned that the Obama administration had built a detention facility in Artesia, New Mexico. Artesia is four hours from any major city, ensuring that detainees had little access to attorneys. The facility was touted from the beginning as a deterrent to undocumented people entering the US—even asylum seekers.
When there didn’t seem to be a coordinated response by attorneys, Kim joined Shelley Wittvongrel, an NLG colleague, in Artesia. The all-volunteer effort evolved into an unstaffed, unfunded project to provide representation to mothers and children seeking asylum. The project was started about five weeks after Artesia was opened and the impact was immediate—there were more deportations in the five weeks before volunteers arrived (about 300) than took place in following five months, until Artesia was closed in December 2014. The project was successful in securing bonds, asylum and eventually green cards for some clients. Kim credits these successes to the amazingly talented and dedicated attorneys and legal workers who participated.
Prior to the project, Artesia was a due process nightmare. Detainees had no interpreters, no access to phones, and little access to legal representation. The project devised a method of “fire brigade” lawyering. Working from a central client database, attorneys came into Artesia for a week to develop cases, then handed them off to the next attorneys to arrive. This allowed attorneys to contribute to the work of the project without shutting down their own practices.
The “South Texas Family Residential Center” in Dilley, Texas was opened in December 2014. It was Artesia on steroids, with a capacity of 2000. The Obama Administration refers to it as a family detention center but this is a misnomer because these centers are jammed full of solely mothers and their minor children. Males over 18 are removed from the family and detained elsewhere.
The successes in Artesia provided a roadmap for Kim and her colleagues to quickly ramp up in Dilley, now a staff-supported project. In all, Kim made four trips to Dilley. “I’ve never had so many opportunities to work with deeply committed people working on critical issues. Most volunteers had to drop their practices and largely self-fund in order to participate.”
Kim was banned from Dilley in July 2015 for entering a secured area after hours. In true form, she was trying to free her clients who were still being held more than eight hours after a judge ordered their release. The banishment letter from Dilley called her “belligerent and demanding”—characterizations she wears as a badge of pride. She now performs motions work remotely to support the volunteer teams who are on the ground.