StarfishArtesia is a tiny town in Southeastern New Mexico that has been thrown into the national spotlight because the federal training center located there has been turned into a make-shift detention center for women and children fleeing violence in Central America.  It’s dry, it’s dusty, it’s hot, and it’s nowhere near an ocean.  So, what could Artesia, NM possibly have in common with starfish?

Several years ago, AILA Colorado presented a Lifetime Achievement award to Betsy Bedient, an AILA Colorado member, who in addition to battling the USCIS for years, had just won her second battle with breast cancer.  During her acceptance speech, Betsy told a story about saving starfish, which is her mantra for her work as an immigration attorney.  She described being on a beach where a number of starfish had been stranded and the frantic efforts one person on the beach made to return the starfish to the water as soon as possible.  In the story, the person is criticized for a futile effort that wouldn’t make any difference.  The person responded, as she threw one back, that she made a difference to that one.  Betsy said that in her practice she couldn’t save them all, but she saved as many as she could and her work made a difference to those that she could help.  Our clients and the people we represent are like starfish.  We can’t save them all, but we can save them one at a time.  Saving starfish has become AILA Colorado’s motto.

And this brings us back to Artesia, NM.  The women and children stranded in Artesia are like the starfish on the beach.  Immigration attorneys from around the country are dropping everything, abandoning their practices, their families, and racing to Artesia, NM to frantically work together to protect these women’s and children’s due process rights.  It is hard work.  It is frustrating.  It is heartbreaking.  Yet, these attorneys are making the impossible possible – they are saving starfish!  And what’s even more incredible is that what’s happening in Artesia is starting to happen everywhere.  Immigration attorneys are volunteering around the nation, wherever they are needed, to help these women and children.   As a witness to these valiant efforts, I feel humbled, I feel hopeful, and I know that our efforts are not in vain.

Written By Lisa Helen York, member of AILA’s Board of Governors