Based in the Bay Area, Ian covers sports, immigration, and Latin America. His work has appeared in ESPN the Magazine, Wired, and Slate, among others. Got a comment or a tip? Email him: igordon [at] motherjones [dot] com.
It was right around this time last year that sources in South Texas began telling me that an expected surge of unaccompanied child migrants was going to be much larger than previously anticipated. They were right: The number of kids crossing the US-Mexico border skyrocketed in 2014, and the border crisis was soon front-page news. But the numbers have been dropping since last fall, and according to new projections, they're on pace to recede even further in 2015.
According to projections from the think tank Washington Office on Latin America, around 41,000 child migrants traveling alone will be caught by US Customs and Border Protection (CBP) in the 2015 fiscal year, a 39 percent decrease from last year. WOLA's data also suggests that border agents will nab more than 56,000 migrant families (typically a mother traveling with children), a 16 percent drop from 2014.
The number of apprehensions is proportional to the number of people crossing the border.The predictions are extrapolated from CBP data and seasonal migration trends. Adam Isacson, WOLA's senior associate for regional security policy, acknowledged that the numbers are "very tentative" and that the sample sizes were small, but that 2015 is still on pace to see the second-biggest influx ever of kids traveling alone.
What accounts for these projected decreases in the two groups of migrants that made up last year's border crunch? After all, things haven't gotten any better in Central America's so-called Northern Triangle (El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras). "The situation in Central America hasn't changed in the last six months," says Maureen Meyer, WOLA's senior associate for Mexico and migrant rights. "So you're going to certainly see people fleeing their homes out of desperation and migrants continuing to be willing to run the gauntlet of risk they could face in Mexico, because they figure the risk is worth it if you could die in your home the next day anyway."
CBP has trumpeted the anti-migration ad campaign it ran last year, but few experts believe it had much impact. Instead, they argue, the decline in migrants can be attributed to the increasing difficulty of making the roughly1,500-mile journey from Central America through Mexico. In July, for example, Mexican officials closed off access to La Bestia (the Beast), the freight train that runs from southern Mexico to the US border. Migrants often sneaked rides on La Bestia because they didn't have the money to pay smugglers. Keeping them off the train has made the journey north more expensive and potentially more dangerous: A recent article in Mexico's El Universal newspaper detailed how migrants are walking increasingly risky routes or taking $250 boat rides to avoid detection in the southern states of Chiapas and Oaxaca.
Shutting down La Bestia was just part of Mexico's new crackdown on Central American migrants. Earlier last summer, President Enrique Peña Nieto announced an initiative called Programa Frontera Sur (Southern Border Program) to address the country's porous border with Guatemala. Meyer says that while the particulars of this plan are still vague, migrant shelter workers in southern Mexico have reported seeing more immigration agents patrolling the region and cracking down on safe houses for migrants.
"We won't see those images again of kids backed up at the border, but that doesn't mean there's no crisis in Central America anymore."
The Mexican government reports that it deported some 104,000 people to the Northern Trianglelast year, a 34 percent increase from 2013. (Given the poor conditions in Mexico's immigration detention centers, Meyer says many detained migrants choose deportation and another shot at heading north.) The uptick has troubled immigrant advocates, who worry that Mexico isn't applying its generous refugee and humanitarian aid laws—and is turning around Central American migrants without regard for their safety in their home countries."That's our biggest area of concern," said Jennifer Podkul of the Women's Refugee Commission. "Are they returning legitimate refugee seekers—people seeking asylum—before they even get here?"
In a January 6 meeting with Peña Nieto in Washington, President Obama praised Mexico's efforts along its border with Guatemala. US officials have repeatedly stressed that border's strategic importance; several years ago, border czar Alan Bersin said, "The Guatemalan border with Chiapas is now our southern border." The White House's 2016 foreign aid budget request earmarks money for bolstering Mexican border enforcement.
Along the US-Mexico border, the feds are intent on avoiding a repeat of last year's border catastrophe, including those visuals of little kids piled together beneath space blankets in fenced-off warehouses. Meghan Johnson, the managing attorney at the ProBAR Children's Project, the American Bar Association's pro bono legal defense program in Texas' Rio Grande Valley, says that federal shelters for unaccompanied minors are currently at 30 percent capacity and that officials are bracing for an influx of kids in the late spring and early summer. The federal government has streamlined its process for getting detained kids out of Border Patrol holding facilities, and now there are two large processing facilities to temporarily hold child migrants before they are placed in shelters or reunified with their families in the states. And Immigration and Customs Enforcement just opened its largest-ever detention facility, in Dilley, Texas, which will only hold "family-unit" detainees, i.e., mothers traveling with their children. (For more, read the New York Times Magazine's recent cover story on family detention.)
Two weeks ago, in a New York Times op-ed announcing the White House's $1 billion aid proposal for El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras, Vice President Joe Biden wrote that "if the political will exists, there is no reason Central America cannot become the next great success story of the Western Hemisphere." In the meantime, it appears the issues that sparked last year's border surge—gang violence, abject poverty, regional instability—will continue to force tens of thousands of unaccompanied children and families to seek refuge in the United States this year.
Still, now that the numbers have dropped from their historic highs last year, it's a good bet that the kids and families won't make headlines anytime soon. "We won't see those images again of kids backed up at the border," Podkul says, "but that doesn't mean there's no crisis in Central America anymore."
Clarification: A previous version of this article suggested that the Office of Refugee Resettlement ran the two border processing facilities, which are run by CBP.
Famed college basketball coach Dean Smith died Saturday night at the age of 83, after years of decline. His on-court prowess as the frontman at North Carolina from 1961 to 1997 is unforgettable: 879 wins, two national championships, 11 Final Four appearances, and a lasting legacy as a hoops innovator. But for many, it's his off-court example—which manifested itself in something people in Chapel Hill still call the Carolina Way—that made him a legend.
Smith was an outspoken liberal Democrat who was anti-nukes, anti-death-penalty, and pro-gay-rights in a state that sent Jesse Helms to the Senate for five terms. (In fact, North Carolina Dems even tried to convince Smith to run against Helms.) His father, Alfred, integrated his high school basketball team in 1930s Kansas; years later, Smith would do the same at UNC, recruiting Charlie Scott in the mid-1960s to become the first African American player on scholarship there and one of the first in the entire South.
This story, from a 2014 piece by the Washington Post's John Feinstein, has been making the rounds today. It's worth re-reading:
…In 1981, Smith very grudgingly agreed to cooperate with me on a profile for this newspaper. He kept insisting I should write about his players, but I said I had written about them. I wanted to write about him. He finally agreed.
One of the people I interviewed for the story was Rev. Robert Seymour, who had been Smith's pastor at the Binkley Baptist Church since 1958, when he first arrived in Chapel Hill. Seymour told me a story about how upset Smith was to learn that Chapel Hill's restaurants were still segregated. He and Seymour came up with an idea: Smith would walk into a restaurant with a black member of the church.
"You have to remember," Reverend Seymour said. "Back then, he wasn't Dean Smith. He was an assistant coach. Nothing more."
Smith agreed and went to a restaurant where management knew him. He and his companion sat down and were served. That was the beginning of desegregation in Chapel Hill.
When I circled back to Smith and asked him to tell me more about that night, he shot me an angry look. "Who told you about that?" he asked.
"Reverend Seymour," I said.
"I wish he hadn't done that."
"Why? You should be proud of doing something like that."
He leaned forward in his chair and in a very quiet voice said something I've never forgotten: "You should never be proud of doing what's right. You should just do what's right."
With the Super Bowl days away, the sports world's hot-take artists have spent the past week toggling between the intrigue and idiocy of Deflategate to the press conference reticence of Seattle Seahawks star Marshawn Lynch. In some ways, it has been the perfect ending to a dreadful year for the NFL and its commissioner, Roger Goodell.
Famous for his "protect the shield" mantra and disciplinarian ways, Goodell has seen his reputation get battered throughout the controversy-filled 12 months since Super Bowl XLVIII. So, as Ballghazi rages on and the big game approaches, here's a look back at the recent firestorms and missteps that made 2014 such a rotten year for the league and its commish:
Ray Rice: It was bad enough when the league initially suspended Rice, then the Baltimore Ravens' star running back, for a paltry two gamesafter his February arrest for assaulting his then-fiancée (now wife) at an Atlantic City casino. It got worse when the Ravens further bungled the situation. But when TMZ released security camera footage in September that actually showed Ray Rice punching Janay Rice, the league had to suspend him indefinitely—even as Goodell maintained that he had never before seen the video. (Numerousreports have made those claims seem laughable.) The NFL toughened its domestic-abuse policies, sure, and will air an ad during the Super Bowl to raise awareness. But the damage from the league's initial inaction already has been done. As Tracy Treu, the wife of former Oakland Raiders center Adam Treu, told me back in September, "When you're with an NFL team, the message to you is clear: Don't fuck anything up for your partner, and don't fuck anything up for the team."
"When you're with an NFL team, the message to you is clear: Don't fuck anything up for your partner, and don't fuck anything up for the team," Tracy Treu, wife of former Raiders center Adam Treu, told me in September.
Adrian Peterson: Just days after the explosive Rice video was released, the Minnesota Vikings' All-Pro running back was accused of hitting his four-year-old son with a switch and was indicted for reckless or negligent injury to a child. For a short time it looked like Peterson would be back on the field after missing just a week of work, but the Vikings quickly reversed course, and the NFL ultimately suspended him for the remainder of the season.
Greg Hardy/Jonathan Dwyer: Lost a bit in the Rice and Peterson headlines were the domestic-assault charges against Hardy, a Carolina Panthers defensive end, and Dwyer, an Arizona Cardinals running back. Hardy's then-girlfriend, Nicole Holder, testified in July that Hardy had dragged her around his apartment, threw her on a futon covered in rifles, and then put his hands on her throat. "I was so scared I wanted to die," she testified. Hardy was convicted; his appeal is set for February. (He took a paid leave of absence in September, in part to avoid a possible suspension.) Dwyer allegedly head-butted his wife and broke her nose in July. She reportedly went to police after seeing the Peterson news in September and fearing for her child's safety. Dwyer was put on the reserve/non-football-injury list and pleaded not guilty to charges on Monday.
Concussions: The league's ongoing concussion scandal may have peaked in 2013 with the airing of the Frontline documentary League of Denial, but the issue of player safety—indeed, the long-term viability of the game—isn't going away anytime soon. In July, a federal judge preliminarily approved a settlement between the league andformer players over concussion-related claims. Since then, more than 200 players have opted out of the settlement, objecting to the restrictions embedded in the deal. As ESPN the Magazine's Peter Keating wrote, "Fewer than 3,600 athletes, or about 17 percent of all retired players, will end up with some kind of illness that the settlement will compensate, according to forecasts by both sides in the case." (The settlement is still awaiting final approval.) Next up: the Christmas release of Will Smith's Concussion, a feature film based on a GQ profile of neuropathologist Dr. Bennet Omalu, one of the first physicians to fight the NFL on brain trauma.
Snyder: Nick Wass/AP; dunce cap: Stockbyte/Thinkstock. Illustration by Dave Gilson.
Cheerleading lawsuits: If you haven't read my colleague Julia Lurie's roundup of the many lawsuits brought by current and former cheerleaders against NFL teams, go do that now. Here's an excerpt, about how different teams determine whether their cheerleaders are fit enough to perform:
The Jills allege being subjected to a weekly "jiggle test," which consisted of doing jumping jacks while their stomachs, arms, legs, hips, and butts were scrutinized. (The Jills manual also instructs, "Never eat in uniform unless arrangements have been made in advance. Just say 'Thanks so much for offering but no thank you'…NEVER say, 'Oh, we're not allowed to eat!'") Ben-Gals are required to weigh in twice a week, and if they come in more than three pounds over their "goal weight," they face penalties: extra conditioning after practice, benchings, probation, or dismissal from the team.
Aaron Hernandez trial: Hernandez, the former Patriots tight end who was arrested a year and a half ago for the shooting death of friend Odin Lloyd, is back in the news now that the jury has been selected and his murder case is set to start Thursday in Connecticut. Hernandez also has been charged with two more murder counts for a July 2012 double-murder in Massachusetts.
Anti-gay front offices: Linebacker Michael Sam came out as gay before the NFL Draft last February. No one knew for sure how it would play out—or what effect it would have on Sam's draft status—but a Sports Illustrated story that anonymously quoted general managers and front-office types around the league wasn't exactly welcoming. "I don't think football is ready for [an openly gay player] just yet," said one personnel assistant. "In the coming decade or two, it's going to be acceptable, but at this point in time it's still a man's-man game." Sam was drafted in the seventh round by the St. Louis Rams but was cut just before the season began. (After latching on with the Dallas Cowboys' practice squad for a spell, he's once again a free agent, albeit an engaged one.)
Jim Irsay: The Indianapolis Colts' billionaire owner was charged with driving while intoxicated in October; he later admitted to having hydrocodone, oxycodone, and Xanax in his system. (Police said they found "numerous prescription medication bottles containing pills," as well as $29,000 in cash, in Irsay's car.) The NFL suspended the outspoken 55-year-old for six games and fined him $500,000.
Not so super: While Super Bowl XLIX could break the TV ratings record, Mina Kimes reports in the latest ESPN the Magazine that the mayor of Glendale, Arizona—this year's host site—told her, "I totally believe we will lose money on this."
Jameis Winston on the horizon: If all of this weren't enough, this spring's NFL Draft will surely be all about Winston, the presumptive No. 1 pick and Heisman Award winner who was accused (but never charged) of rape as a Florida State freshman in 2012. Winston was recently cleared of violating FSU's code of conduct, though a 2013 New York Timesreport alleged that "there was virtually no investigation at all, either by the police or the university," after the allegations were made. The story isn't going away anytime soon: Last week, Winston's accuser went public in The Hunting Ground, a documentary on campus sexual assault that debuted Friday at the Sundance Film Festival.
At least you have that Heisman to fall back on, Marcus.
The first-ever College Football Playoff, culminating in tonight's national championship game between Oregon and Ohio State, has been years in the making: Fans, coaches, and players had long complained about the lack of a tournament, à la college basketball's March Madness, to determine a national champ. The four-team tourney has proved a smashing success: The semifinal games on New Year's Day each brought ESPN more than 28 million viewers, breaking the cable TV ratings record set in 2011 by the title game between Oregon and Auburn. Thanks to NCAA rules, though, the players will make bupkis. So who is cashing in, then? Here's a partial breakdown.
ESPN: In 2012, the sports network inked a 12-year, $7.3 billion deal for the rights to air seven postseason college games—the four big bowl games plus two national semifinals and the championship game. That's a ton of money, even when you consider that media buyers told Advertising Age that 30-second spots during this year's title game are selling for $1 million a pop. But even if ESPN barely covers its expenses, securing the long-term rights to the playoffs has further cemented its dominance as the go-to channel for sports fans. And that, in the end, should prove immensely profitable.
The NCAA: College sports' governing body loves to prattle on about amateurism while pulling in nearly $1.4 billion annually in TV royalties for the football playoffs ($608 million) and March Madness ($771 million). Still, Mark Emmert, the NCAA's embattled president, made $1.7 million in total compensation in 2012, 46 percent more than his predecessor, Myles Brand, earned in his last full year as prez.
Nike: There have been plenty of swooshes on your screen this playoff season: All four playoff semifinalists—Alabama, Florida State, Ohio State, and Oregon—wear Nike gear due to $15 million in contracts for the 2014-15 academic year. (Nike founder Phil Knight is a well-known Oregon alumnus and superbooster.) Related: Have you picked up your special-edition Oregon title game jersey yet? How about your custom CFP Zoom Hypercross TRs?
The Big 5 Conferences: The biggest recipients of the TV largesse will be the so-called Big 5 conferences—the Atlantic Coast, the Big Ten, the Big 12, the Pac-12, and the Southeastern—which will each receive $50 million a year, according to the CFP's revenue distribution plan. The ACC, Big 10, Pac-12, and SEC also all got a $6 million bonus because their teams made the semifinals, plus millions more for travel expenses. (As you might imagine, these conferences already have hefty TV deals that are distributed among the schools.)
Coaches Mark Helfrich and Urban Meyer: Meyer—who won national titles at Florida in 2006 and 2008 and is earning nearly $4.5 million in base compensation this season at Ohio State—will take home $250,000 just for making it to the championship game. OSU athletic director Gene Smith told USA Today in December that those numbers are right on the mark: "He's the CEO of a large corporation. We're fortunate we have him at Ohio State." Helfrich, the second-year Oregon coach, will pocket $2 million in salary this year (the lowest among semifinalist head coaches), plus $250,000 more should the Ducks win Monday night. (His assistant coaches already have snatched an additional six months' worth of base salary this postseason, and could earn even more.)
Gene Smith: The Ohio State athletic director came under fire last year when it was reported that he earned a bonus of more than $18,000 after a wrestler won an individual national title in March. He's on track to make another two weeks' worth of base pay, roughly $36,000, if the Buckeyes bring home the trophy Monday night.
On Tuesday, the CFP announced that the NCAA would let it help cover the expenses of parents who wanted to come watch their kids play in the title game, allotting up to $1,250 per parent/guardian (maximum: two) for travel, meals, and accommodations. So that's nice. But what of the kids whose hard work makes this all possible? Don't they deserve something?
As it turns out, the NCAA allows players up to $550 each in goods from gift suites set up by individual bowl games. According to SportsBusiness Daily, the Rose Bowl (the Florida State-Oregon semifinal) handed out Fossil watches, Oakley Works backpacks, and New Era 59Fifty caps, while the Sugar Bowl (the Alabama-Ohio State semifinal) also gave away Fossil watches and New Era hats. It's not the custom-made Fathead wall decals handed out by the Quick Lane Bowl, but hey, these kids are amateurs.
An unidentified Guatemalan detainee at the family detention center in Artesia, New Mexico
This past summer, the "border kids"—tens of thousands of unaccompanied minors from El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras detained after crossing into the United States—became the country's latest immigration crisis. Aid groups mobilized, Congress held hearings, and pleas for compassion resounded at the highest levels of government. "These are our kids," Vice President Joe Biden told a group of lawyers in August, urging them to offer the children free legal representation.
But the Obama administration hasn't extended that caring attitude to another huge group of Central American migrant kids—those traveling with a parent or guardian, usually their mother. In fiscal 2014, according to data from US Customs and Border Protection, these so-called family unit apprehensions nearly quadrupled. By comparison, the increase in kids arriving at the border alone—the surge that put Capitol Hill in a crisis mode—was a relatively modest 77 percent.
In perhaps the biggest policy reversal since the surge began, the federal government has rebuilt the controversial family detention system it gutted only a few years ago, in no small part to send a message to would-be immigrants—even though 98 percent of those at one Texas detention facility were asylum seekers who claimed that they feared returning to their home countries, according to a recent report by the Women's Refugee Commission and the Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service. "I certainly would've never expected it from this administration," said the WRC's Michelle Brané, who coauthored the report. "Why they went for this draconian detention, I just don't get it."
In 2009, the feds stopped detaining women and children at the notoriousT. Don Hutto facility near Austin, Texas, following Bush-era allegations of stark conditions and sexual abuse. Family detention seemed to be on the outs. Then, in July, the White House put forward a $3.7 billion emergency appropriations request that included $879 million for about 6,300 new family detention beds. While the request never made it through Congress, the Department of Homeland Security still managed to open a temporary family facility in Artesia, New Mexico, and a second one in Karnes City, Texas. (Nearly 500 women and children have been deported since these facilities opened their doors to family-unit detainees.)
The Artesia facility is set to close this month, just in time for DHS to open yet another family detention center in Dilley, Texas. Built to house 2,400 migrants, the South Texas Family Residential Center will be the largest Immigration and Customs Enforcement facility ever. Like Hutto, it will be run by the private prison firm Corrections Corporation of America.
Anti-detention advocates argue that locking up families is not only expensive—ICE spends $161 a day to detain the typical immigrant, but $266 a day per family-unit detainee—but also traumatic and unnecessary. For the past several years, said American Civil Liberties Union lawyer Michael Tan, women with children who passed the so-called credible fear of persecution screening, which comes before an asylum hearing, were allowed to live in the community while they went through the immigration process. "The agency understood that if you were a bona fide asylum seeker we didn't need to lock you up," Tan said. Besides, alternatives to detention can be nearly as effective in getting people to their immigration hearings, at a fraction of the cost.
"Detention puts a whole lot of pressure on extremely vulnerable people to give up their cases," Tan said. "The immigration authorities know that one way to facilitate removal is to keep people locked up."
See MoJo's full coverage of the surge of unaccompanied child migrants from Central America.
But this past summer, the government instituted what the ACLU, in a just-filed class action lawsuit, describes as a blanket no-release policy that keeps women and children under lock and key—even though they've passed credible-fear screenings and have every incentive to show up for an asylum hearing. Worse still, attorneys who've been to Artesia and Karnes City have been complaining for months about what they've seen at the two facilities. Artesia, for example, is a remote oil town in southeastern New Mexico, halfway between Carlsbad and Roswell on US 285. Because it is so isolated, legal services there have been limited to a rotating cast of attorneys organized by the American Immigration Lawyers Association who are working pro bono for a week at a time. In August, several groups filed a complaint alleging a violation of due process rights at the facility.
At a House Homeland Security Committee hearing this month, DHS Secretary Jeh Johnson acknowledged some of the criticisms, saying he wanted "to make sure we have adequate ability for effective attorney-client communications" moving forward. He continued: "I believe that added detention capability on the southern border, and some disagree with me, is essential to border security." On Monday, at the Dilley facility's inauguration, Johnson was more blunt: "It'll now be more likely that you'll be detained and sent back."
I recently spoke with a woman I'll call Jessica Ramos, who landed at Artesia after fleeing Honduras with her two-year-old son, Nicolás (also a pseudonym). She left as soon as she could after her gang-affiliated boyfriend put a gun to her boy's head and then, moments later, stuck the barrel in her mouth. The preceding months had been marked by increasing violence, including twice-daily sexual assaults, and Ramos was sure she'd end up dead if she didn't get far away fast. "The law doesn't do anything there—what options do we have?" she told me in Spanish. "To run away with our kids."
"The law doesn't do anything there—what options do we have?" said Jessica Ramos of her native Honduras. "To run away with our kids."
So, on July 2, Ramos and Nicolás left Olancho, which is located along Honduras' eastern border with Nicaragua and is one of the most violent regions in the world's most violent country. Her sister helped wrangle a smuggler to lead them through Guatemala and Mexico. On July 17, they entered South Texas by crossing the Rio Grande, and were quickly apprehended. A few days later, they were shipped to the recently opened Artesia facility.
According to Brané's report, some of the problems that led to Hutto's closing are cropping up again. More than half of the 1,050 minors booked into family detention this year were six or younger, the report notes. At the Karnes City facility, which is now facing a complaint alleging sexual abuse, extortion, and harassment by guards, women reportedly had to carry their infant children incessantly—no crawling was allowed. Many children were depressed and lost weight. Jesse Lloyd, an attorney who has spent time at Artesia, told me that one three-year-old stopped eating solid food because he couldn't process the institutional fare. ICE officials wouldn't let seven-year-old Nayely Bermúdez Beltrán leave the Karnes City detention center to see a doctor, despite a malignant brain tumor that required immediate treatment. (She and her mother, Sara Beltrán Rodríguez, were eventually released, after the local media caught wind of it.)
Additionally, Artesia offered scant child care, which meant that children were in tow while their mothers met with immigration attorneys and asylum officers and shared traumatic stories of violence and sexual assault. (Some mothers censored their stories to protect the kids, the report noted, in effect hurting their cases.) Attorneys complained that the new facilities didn't have telephone rooms, and instead relied on guards to carry around cellphones the detainees could ask to use—Brané points out that such a setup could enable guards to coerce and sexually harass women and girls.
In detention, Nicolás lost nearly a third of his weight, dropping from 55 pounds to 39. Ramos shed 20 pounds herself, and even started losing some hair.
When Ramos arrived at Artesia, she said, the staff went out of their way to antagonize her, telling her that there was no chance she'd get asylum. Detainees were compelled to make the foamy bathroom hand soap double as shampoo. The food was "horrible." Nicolás lost nearly a third of his weight, dropping from 55 pounds to 39. Ramos shed 20 pounds herself, and even started losing some hair. She mostly kept to herself, she told me, making friends with just one other detainee, a woman from El Salvador. She was wary about befriending other Hondurans, on the off chance her ex might find out where she was.
Nicolás didn't understand why they were locked up, and he grew increasingly withdrawn as the weeks turned into months; at one point, outside in the detention center's yard, he saw a bus drove by. "Mommy," he said, "let's go on that bus. I don't want to be here." Ramos grew desperate. She knew she couldn't go back to Honduras. When a Denver-based attorney named Elanie Cintron walked into a roomful of Artesia detainees one day and asked if any of them needed legal representation, Ramos shot her hand up.
With Cintron's help, it wasn't long before Ramos was granted an asylum hearing. Following hours of testimony, the judge gave a 45-minute explanation of her ruling, all in English. Ramos had attended with another lawyer, since Cintron was back in Colorado at the time. She kept tapping the attorney's hand, searching for clues as to how the judge would decide. Finally, the judge stopped talking. The lawyer turned to her: "Congratulations, Jessica!"
Ramos broke down crying. Her legal team was able to get her and her son released immediately—some women have had to wait up to 30 days—and Nicolás requested a pizza and chicken dinner to celebrate. Several days later, the two were on a plane to New York City. They settled with Ramos' sister in Brooklyn.
"The government came into this with a very clear assumption and goal," Brané said. "The assumption was these families didn't have protection needs, and the goal was to get them out quickly. I think that that's being proven wrong." Still, Obama's recent immigration executive action doesn't protect new arrivals, and it remains to be seen whether the shift to the new Dilley facility, located just 70 miles from San Antonio, will mean that more women and children will get legal aid and eventually be released.
"All the women in there," Ramos told me, "have a case."