This informative and moving Chat with Mekela Goehring showed just how rewarding and fundamentally fulfilling “work” can be. Through persistence and community support, RMIAN continues to unite immigrant families and fight to serve underrepresented individuals in immigration proceedings. Below are a few highlights of our Chat and details on how you can help.
A bit of background information:
RMIAN is a nonprofit organization that serves low-income men, women, and children in immigration proceedings. RMIAN promotes knowledge of legal rights, provides effective representation to ensure due process, works to improve detention conditions, and promotes a more humane immigration system, including alternatives to detention.
How has persistence made a difference in your day-to-day or in a certain situation?
Burnout from trauma and stress in our staff is incredibly high, but I see persistence in the ways they’re able to keep doing their work despite hearing stories of the worst humans can do to each other. The work our staff does is phenomenal – we’re working to build our capacity to work towards a model of universal representation.
The counterpoint to that is the resilience we see in our clients. Their stories of bravery and courage and why they came to the United States are incredible. Persistence is their single most important trait. After being separated from their children their sentiment is “We’re going to talk to the other moms [in this situation] and be strong for each other so we can get back with our kids.”
How have the last couple years impacted RMIAN?
Most recently, we saw locally what has been front and center – the family separation policy. We saw that play out in Colorado first hand, and RMIAN saw about 60 moms and dads who were separated from their kids at the border and taken to the Aurora, Colorado detention center. This summer, and the last 6 months, have felt like one assault after the other to the communities we serve. The psychological warfare this administration is implementing…no one is safe. It has continued to escalate and it’s heart-wrenching.
The Supreme Court calls family separation “separation from everything that makes life worth living.” It’s a tool to use people to accept deportation orders.
We found a pro-bono attorney for one of our very first clients. I was leaving the detention center after a visit and our client’s wife and son were outside the center talking to him on the phone. I heard the three year old son say “Hi Daddy, we’re outside your home”. What is wrong with this?! He thinks a prison is his dad’s home…
The current system is not the best option and there are things the United States could do to be more humane:
– Get rid of immigration detention. There’s no reason to put people in civil detention when they’re going through proceedings, especially if they’re not a danger to the community.
– Create universal representation for anyone going through deportation proceedings. If they don’t have resources to hire someone they should be appointed council. At it’s core it’s a fair system. You can’t expect a 5 or 6 year old to sit and present an asylum case as they won’t be able to give the court information on why they need asylum. It’s proven that people (adults and children) are 10x more likely to win their case with an attorney by their side.
– Open the windows for the affirmative applications available for people. RMIAN has looked at reopening DACA and creating opportunities for kids and families who are here and invested in our country. There are so many who are meaningful members of our society and who can – and want to – contribute.
How we can help:
– Connect to organizations like RMIAN. It’s one of the joys of this work, getting to connect with people across the country. It’s important for us to connect with national partners because we’re the only non-profit doing this work in Colorado. The network we’re tied to are the other providers of the Legal Orientation Program. Want to learn more? Google “Legal Orientation Program”. Also, Immigration Advocates Network lists the non-profit providers doing similar work in each state.
– Mobilize your talents. Are you a lawyer willing to do pro-bono work? Are you bi-lingual and willing to help translate for the people detained in the centers? A project manager, strategist, writer…all of your talents can be put to good use to help people in these situations.
– At the end of the day, non-profits like RMIAN need financial support. Please consider donating and encourage people to support this work.
How does this not consume you 24/7?
It’s heartbreaking and there’s so much trauma, but on the other hand so many people are reaching out asking how they can help. People feel helpless and want to do something about it. As hard as it is, there’s an empowering element that we’re in this battle and fighting for justice. One of the greatest joys of my work is interacting with people who care deeply about these issues. It’s really inspiring.