Jose is a fresh-faced 23-year-old with a shy smile that sometimes breaks through. When word slipped out that he is gay, he began getting death threats from members of his extended family who consider homosexuality a sin and his existence a blot on the family. After one particularly scary near-miss attempt on his life, Jose left his native Colombia for the long and treacherous journey to the U.S.
Maria fled an abusive husband whose beatings had twice landed her in the hospital. Both times (and other times) she had sought refuge with family, but he had quickly found her. She said he was a member of the gang that controlled their area. After one final night of terror, she left El Salvador with little more than the clothes she was wearing to begin the perilous trek to a country where she thought she could find safety.
These are the only two asylum-seekers I personally (although only remotely) know. I would not be surprised, though, if they were in multiple ways representative of the hundreds of asylum seekers now held (many of them separated from their children) in a federal detention facility in Tacoma, Washington, or waiting under pretty terrible conditions in Mexico for the slim chance of being granted asylum in the U.S.
Our government isn’t making their path any easier, but Jose and Maria and other desperate asylum seekers do have allies. If you simply think the U.S. should get out of the asylum-granting business, don’t waste your time reading any further. But if you feel a modicum of sympathy for people like these, read on.
In case you missed this, Virtual Advocacy Days for Asylum happened July 14-16. In brief, it was a group effort, on the part of a number of individuals – I think there were thousands of us, but I’ve not seen a final report – to do something to help the countless, nameless people seeking asylum in these United States. Something about that ‘Give me your tired, your poor – and maybe your desperate too’ idea. The effort was to advocate “for restoring life-saving asylum protections and defunding harmful asylum policies,” the website explained. “Our goal is to ensure that Members of Congress are educated about the administration’s systematic attacks on the asylum system that has resulted in a complex web of harm against asylum seekers.” Virtual Advocacy Days for Asylum were sponsored by the Interfaith Immigration Coalition, a partnership of faith-based organizations “committed to enacting fair and humane immigration reform that reflects our mandate to welcome the stranger and treat all human beings with dignity and respect.”
Immediate disclosure! My part in this was so teeny as to be invisible (a few calls and letters to Members of Congress.) It just feels infinitely warmer to write “us” rather than “them.” But my remarkable friend Ally McKinney Timm, Executive Director of DC-based Justice Revival, was out there on the front lines meeting with congressional staffers and “influencers,” distributing materials, and alerting people like me that there are ways to help. There still are.
How? Lovely of you to ask. There are currently four pieces of pro-asylum legislation being considered by the House and Senate. There are also anti-asylum policies in place that you might want to help change. I do not pretend to understand all the nuances of U.S, policies or immigration laws – or even to have carefully read through the four bills. But I know innocent people are suffering. The Virtual Advocacy Days are past, but the ways to advocate remain, explained in one clear and simple page, for anyone interested.
This essay appeared earlier on Medium.com, a good site for ideas and information where I’ve been happy to write in recent months. You might want to check it out.