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Lawyers volunteer to help detainees

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The Associated Press
ARTESIA — Attorneys from around the country have been traveling to a temporary detention center in New Mexico to provide pro-bono representation to immigrants there.
Around a dozen immigration attorneys recently arrived in Artesia from Colorado, Nevada, New York and Minnesota, the Albuquerque Journal reported. Advocates said the lawyers are needed since many of the women and children from Central America were being deported.
Olsi Vrapi, a University of New Mexico law professor, is coordinating the effort alongside the Washington, D.C.-based American Immigration Lawyers Association.
“There (have) been no shortage of volunteers and no shortage of cases,” Vrapi said.
Immigration attorney Jennifer Smith drove 10 hours to Artesia from Glenwood Springs, Colorado, last week. She said she volunteered because “it was too heartbreaking not to.”
She said the volunteers — who have set up shop in a conference room of the Artesia Chamber of Commerce — face challenges in representing the detained women and children, including difficulties gaining admission to the detention center and getting face time with clients.
Federal immigration officials said all migrants detained in Artesia are provided a “know your rights” legal presentation and may access phones to speak with an attorney.
The oil and gas town in southeastern New Mexico lies more than three hours from the urban centers of Albuquerque and El Paso, Texas. That’s where most immigration attorneys in the region practice, and advocates say it’s hard for them to get to Artesia regularly.
“As soon as we found out about the family detention center in Artesia, we knew access to legal counsel would be a big issue,” said Anu Joshi, Grassroots Advocacy Associate at the American Immigration Lawyers Association.
Another group of attorneys flies in from Oregon next week, according to organizers. Most of the volunteers speak fluent Spanish, although volunteer translators have arrived, as well.
The Obama administration recently converted the Artesia facility into one of several temporary sites being established to deal with the influx of women and children fleeing gang violence and poverty in Central America.