The UT Austin School of Social Work’s Texas Institute for Child and Family Wellbeing and St. Edward’s University are developing a Social Work Detention Response Team in response to recent waves of migrants seeking asylum in the United States, particularly from the “Northern Triangle” countries of Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador. Given that Texas has a large number of immigration detention facilities, including two facilities that house women and children, social workers have been called upon to assist attorneys in helping detained migrants recount stories for the asylum process.

Detained migrants have a “credible fear interview” in which they have to explain why they are seeking asylum. Essentially, they have to show that there is a credible fear of danger should they be returned to their home country. These stories generally involve intense traumas that migrants have not had the opportunity to process. In many cases, they have difficulty recounting their stories. Social workers are skilled in helping capture these stories while being mindful and attentive to migrants’ wellbeing.

Professors Laurie Cook Heffron (St. Edward’s) and Monica Faulkner (UT Austin) will be coordinating social work students interested in helping with credible fear interviews. Once a month, the group will visit the Karnes Detention Center. Students who are interested in helping should: 1) speak Spanish; 2) have completed basic social work coursework on working with individuals in direct practice and ethics; and 3) attend a training prior to the first visit. Students will also need to receive clearance by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) prior to visiting a facility. Clearance requires copy of a state-issued identification and disclosing your social security number.

If you are interested in participating, contact professors Faulkner or Cook Heffron by email. They will assess whether you are a good fit for this volunteer work and discuss next steps.