Immigration Law Student action
Behind the heavily secured walls of a Louisiana detention center, Loyola students navigated the complexities of immigration law to help people facing deportation
Patricia Martin’s research and planning could only prepare her so much for the trip she was about to take. Along with seven of her classmates from Loyola University Chicago’s School of Law, the second-year law student had hopped a Sunday morning flight to New Orleans, then jumped into a rental car and drove three hours to Alexandria, Louisiana, a small city in the swampy center of the state. Following an anxious night of sleep in a motel she described as “humble,” Martin rode another 40 miles northeast, winding through the spindly pine trees and gothic bogs of the Kisatchie National Forest.
Her final destination was Jena, a town of 3,382 in LaSalle Parish, nestled along the Kisatchie. Jena’s median family income sits below $40,000. Porches are often buckled, shrubs and kudzu overgrown. Off the road, one sign implored her to “Keep Calm and Eat More Catfish.” A Confederate flag hung outside a nearby junk shop, pressed and clean.
Shortly before, one of Martin’s friends had flown 17 hours to Thailand for their Spring Break. A second was jetting down to Naples, Florida—Martin’s hometown—in search of sun and seafood. Others decided to hang around Chicago, catching up on reading or sleep; it had already been a hectic semester. Demanding assignments were something most Loyola law students were understandably hoping to avoid.
Martin had other ideas. Her carpool parked outside Jena’s largest employer, the LaSalle ICE Processing Center. It’s a labyrinth cement facility enveloped by rows of steel fencing and coiled barbed wire. A giant Department of Homeland Security (DHS) crest is plastered on the front wall. To gain entry, Martin’s name had been added to a pre-approved list. Along with a few of her colleagues, she handed over her driver’s license and passed through a TSA-style security checkpoint. From there, she was buzzed through a series of locked gates and escorted into a cramped, partitioned room.
The walls were stark-white, almost oppressively so. It was here, on the other side of a glass window and a long way from home, where Martin met immigrants of all stripes—potential legal clients detained indefinitely by the federal government. Their status in the United States was very much in jeopardy. Most were desperate for clarity. And so they started to talk, attempting to sort out exactly how they landed in detention and how their precarious lives might proceed. Martin sat patiently, confident in her legal preparation if unnerved by the intensity of her new surroundings. She took some deep breaths, listened, and started to jot down notes.