From the Hutto Visitation Program: A Tale of Two Visits

"A Tale of Two Visits"

Elaine Cohen, our guest blogger, is a dedicated volunteer with Texans United for Families and the Hutto Visitation Program. 

My last report was about a visit made by six of us on March 8, International Women’s Day.  Our group included experienced visitors, as well as two first-time visitors.  During that visit, there was an awkward moment when a woman who identified herself to me as “the Captain” informed me that I must restrict my visiting to the two women I had signed for.  She said that if I spoke to any of the other women I would be asked to leave. 

Last Friday (March 14) I visited again, this time with one other and each of us asked to see one woman, rather than two.  Instead of the 45 – 60 minute wait that we had on March 8, we went in quickly (10-15 minutes).  The other volunteer visited with one of the Spanish speaking women and I visited with a European woman who spoke some English.

This woman had been at Hutto for over eight months.  I had barely spoken to her on the 8th but this time we were able to talk a little more.  I say a little more because the woman seemed depressed and not eager to tell me very much about herself. She had flown into Cancun from somewhere in Europe, took a bus to Monterrey and then back up to the border, where she was apprehended.  She said that she was kept in the “cold boxes” for two weeks – and that it was a shock to her.  She was not the first person we have interviewed to use the word torture to describe the experience.

Her first interview to determine credible fear ended in refusal.  She decided to appeal the decision.  She is now waiting for her second interview.  She is not optimistic.

The visits were quiet and lasted about 90 minutes.  

We have had discussions about whether “group” visits are preferable to smaller visits.  Some of us have liked the group model, especially for first time visitors.  Others have voiced more affinity for quieter visits.  After my recent experiences, I may well stand on the side of the smaller visits.  Four or fewer visitors and only calling for one person may be a preferable model.  

The number of women who want visitors and the infrequency with which so many participants of the visitation program are able to visit is a conundrum.  We are always so happy when many people come to the Orientations.   But what we need is for people to carve out more time in their lives to visit with greater frequency.  Going to Orientation is only step 1. 

In the best of all possible worlds visiting should be consistent.  We realize that people’s schedules are full with work, family commitments and the endless tasks of our daily lives.  This report ends with an invitation to add the rainbow color of visiting to the threads of the weave that is your life.  Those of us who visit with some regularity know it is hard work – but we also know it is profoundly satisfying.  Let your follow up to International Women’s Day in 2014 be an increased dedication to visit.  There are 512 women in Immigration Detention in Taylor, Texas who want to meet you.


Elaine J. Cohen

Austin, Texas