Every month, Antonio Castro Aranda meets hundreds of detained immigrants who can’t afford an attorney. The challenge for him is to find a match, to place a case with a volunteer attorney. Mr. Castro Aranda works for the Political Asylum / Immigration Representation Project, PAIR. He is the Pro Bono Detention Manager.
Castro Aranda also arranges monthly “Know Your Rights” presentations at three Boston area detention centers. These are county jails that contract with Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) to detain immigrants. He recruits volunteer attorneys and law students to give the presentations. PAIR has developed a relationship with the facilities, and this helps with attorney access to clients for presentations and individual meetings. An attorney can visit with a client any time. “I’ve been told that ICE in Boston is more progressive, reasonable than other parts of the country,” says Castro Aranda.
He’s grown accustomed to many of the hurdles his volunteer attorneys and their clients face, preparing a case together. One of the detention centers is about an hour and a quarter from downtown Boston. The attorney has to make that trip for every client meeting and preliminary hearing. A client can call an attorney from the detention center phones, but the attorney can not call the client.
The hearings are tough for the attorney-client relationship too. In the Boston area, the preliminary “master calendar” hearings are video-conferenced; and the client is not in the same room as the Immigration Judge and interpreter. The attorney has to choose between going to the detention center to sit with the client, or being present in the court room. But Mr. Castro Aranda believes that is better than the shackles and cuffs the clients had to wear for hours, each trip to and from the court, before the video system was installed. ICE transports detainees in chains and cuffs, without any determination that a person is dangerous or likely to flee. The Individual Hearing is in-person, which is important while the immigrant tells his or her story, and the judge makes a credibility finding. Though they appear before the judge in handcuffs, at least the PAIR clients have a chance at a fair hearing, with an attorney present.
Mr. Castro Aranda, and volunteer pro bono attorneys across the country, work hard to provide representation. But the overwhelming majority of immigrants in detention go through the removal process without counsel. When asked if he gets discouraged, Castro Aranda says, “The reward of being able to provide representation for a detainee in immigration proceedings is priceless, even if the case is not won. You know you are contributing to a more just situation when the person has legal assistance to defend herself while the court makes essential decisions about her life.”