by Thania Lopez

Santa Clara Law students in Arizona.

After spending our first day in Arizona at the actual border, we were more than ready to hit the ground running with the Florence Immigrant and Refugee Rights Project the very next day! The morning of Monday, March 11th, the adult team was dressed and ready to head to Florence at 7:30 am. The drive to Florence was about an hour long, but we kept each other mentally stimulated by participating in brain teasers with great music playing in the background. The hour flew by quickly as we approached FIRRP’s main office.

Florence Immigrant & Refugee Project office

Upon our arrival, the Florence team greeted us with a warm welcome and a kitchen full of snacks! They had a full day of training planned for us to be sure that we would be ready to start when we entered the detention facility the following two days. In addition to reviewing substantive immigration law, the Florence Project explained to us how their organization conducts their “Know Your Rights” workshops to the detainees, followed by their individual orientation interviews. The Florence staff each took turns as they presented the daily intricacies of their organization while we diligently listened in their conference room.

Florence Project conference room

After breaking for lunch, we returned to their office and listened-in on their weekly meetings, known as the “Juicer.” Here, all the attorneys, social workers, legal assistants, and staff members had an opportunity to pose to the entire group any difficult legal or facility-related questions they were stumped with that week. As each member submitted their question to the rest of the group, other members collaborated by expressing their opinions, arguments, and experiences on the issue. At the conclusion of their meeting, we each picked a research assignment that we would be assisting a staff member with during our stay. At just around 5:30 pm, we left our first day with the Florence Project fully trained and eager to see the inside of these detention facilities, where thousands are detained at any given day.

Santa Clara Law students enjoying dinner after a long day at the Florence Project.

On our way back to the hotel, we made plans with the “kids team” to have dinner at Cracker Barrel, which was literally across the street from where we were staying. We enjoyed a much-needed meal and had a laugh when we surprised one of our fellow students with a fake birthday celebration!

Santa Clara Law students playing cards together.

At the end of the night, many of us gathered at Quetzalli and Marili’s room to relax with an extremely long game of Uno, lasting over an hour long! With the thought of waking up at 6 am the next morning hanging above our heads, we decided to call it a night. Tomorrow, the adult team heads to Eloy to visit the Eloy Detention Center and La Palma Correctional Center! Stay tuned to see what our group uncovers!