HIAS Delegation Journal, Day 2: Detention Center, AKA Prison for Noncriminal Immigrants

We started the day out at the Otay Mesa detention center. I drove us and it was striking to me how beautiful the landscape was on the way to the center. The hills are rolling, everything is blooming, there are lots of colorful flowers everywhere. It was gorgeous. Then we arrived at the Otay Mesa Detention Center and it became clear quickly this was not a happy place. It looks like prison. Chain link fences with barbed wire spun on top surrounded the building. We were buzzed in through multiple doors, went through security and then we waited to see potential clients.

I was able to meet with one potential client for a complete intake, and another to say hello and provide some information. Neither The potential clients were so happy to see me, even knowing that the nonprofit organization I was there representing may or may not take their cases.

I was able to spend a good amount of time with a transgender woman from Honduras. To my surprise and dismay, she was detained with men, not women. We talked about her claim too asylum. She told me about the horror she experienced in her home country because she was transgender. I thought the suffering in her story would end there, but it didn’t. She also told me about the violence she experienced on her way to the United States. Through all that pain though, she was most concerned with her case. I was struck by her kindness, preparedness, and motivation to comply with US laws. She came this far and wasn’t giving up on ensuring her own safety.