Kara Lynum practices immigration law because she wants to help families stay together and live in safety — even when she has to shut down her law office and travel cross-country to do so.
She’s done exactly that three times since September 2014, driving some 1,300 miles south each time to put in 12-hour days working pro bono with migrant women and children languishing in detention centers in Texas and New Mexico. The Obama administration began detaining migrant families in June 2014 in an effort to deter a recurrence of the influx of Central American asylum seekers that made headlines that summer.
Lynum set out on her most recent trip on behalf of the CARA Family Detention Pro Bono Project in late January, planning to spend a week in Dilley, Texas, 70 miles southwest of San Antonio. There, an immigration detention center houses thousands of women and children who fled violence in Central America and now face deportation or await asylum hearings.
“When I found out there were mothers and children being held at these jails, these detention centers in the middle of nowhere, I felt like I actually had the skill set to go help,” Lynum said. “It will be two years this summer since they opened up these facilities, so the problem is still very much real.”
Lynum uses her experience in family-based immigration law and removal defense work, which she practices exclusively, to help migrant women prepare for their credible-fear interviews. At those “miniature asylum interviews,” the women facing expedited removal explain to officers why they fear returning to their country and why they fear torture or persecution if they go back.
“You prepare them to tell their stories, sometimes for the first time, to figure out how they can tell their story to someone else to get asylum,” Lynum said.
“Our goal is just to get them out of the facility and then they can go on to their family members so they can finish off their case wherever they were going.”
Lynum was one of four attorneys who won the Immigrant Law Center of Minnesota’s 2015 National Advocate of the Year award for their work on behalf of migrant families. Through the efforts of Lynum and the other attorneys, a family detention center in Artesia, N.M., was shut down in December 2014, according to the center.
The detention center work underscores the reason Lynum specializes in immigration law.
“This is going to sound corny, but I like helping people, helping clients who have real pressing problems that affect whether they can stay with their families,” Lynum said. “I like helping those people get through a really complex set of rules that aren’t very user friendly.”
Lynum advises her local clients that she will be gone before her trips south and stays in contact with them by phone and email while she is out of state. “Ninety-nine percent of my clients say, ‘That’s fine you’re gone for a week, I’ve got you the rest of the year.’ I’m so grateful to so many of my clients who are so kind like that.”