I have better words to describe asylum seekers. Determined. Tough. Resilient. Resourceful. What else would you call people who’ve traveled 2,000 miles with few possessions and little money? Surely these are the traits of workers we want in America. Why would we turn them away? Unless our minds have been poisoned against them. Donald Trump says they look like heavyweight boxers or UFC fighters. Really? That doesn’t describe the teenager with the cruel scars of vicious gang violence etched on her face or the pregnant woman traveling alone, or the young father with his toddler who has a profound disability, or the teenage boy who looks out for his mother who only speaks Mam (a Mayan language). It doesn’t describe the little three-year-old girl — a firecracker with huge dark eyes and a face framed with spikes of black hair — who watches me with suspicion, or her older brother who helps me arrange plastic letters on the floor. Together we spell the one word he really, really wants to write: PAPA. My heart cracks. I have to look away. He’s traveling with his mother. Where is his Papa? I don’t know. But this boy — trusting and eager and bright — is a boy to make his Papa proud. These are not evil criminals — they’re just desperate people who need help.
Helper. Hater. Which are you? I’ve met a lot of helpers lately. Helpers provide beds, food and clothing to asylum seekers in need. Helpers make sure travelers have the bus and plane tickets they need to get them to their destinations. Helpers drive their charges to airports and escort them through lengthy security checks. Some helpers comfort and reassure while others slip dollars into the pockets of travelers who have none and will ride for three days on a bus with only snacks as sustenance. The helpers give me hope. They are everywhere. Helpers like the kind TSA worker who carefully explains the security procedures to the mother and son I’m escorting through the airport. “Thank you for doing this,” he says to me. I wish I could do more. The haters have loud voices but the helpers tune them out and do the work.
Give me your tired, your poor, Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, The wretched refuse of your teeming shore. Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed to me … . Those words are inscribed on the Statue of Liberty, universal symbol of freedom and democracy. Our president seems to have forgotten them, but he shouldn’t have. After all, he is the son and grandson of immigrants. His grandfather emigrated from Germany, reportedly to avoid military service in his home country. And his mother was an economic migrant, leaving the Outer Hebrides of Scotland in the 1930s to escape poverty. His first and third wives are immigrants too. What if America hadn’t welcomed Friedrich Trumpf, Mary MacLeod, Ivana Zelnickova (from Czeckoslovakia) or Melanija Knauss (from Slovenia)? What if?
Hope. Hope is driving these asylum seekers but whether they are granted asylum or not depends largely upon the whims of the judge who hears their case and whether or not they can afford a lawyer -- the current acceptance rate is somewhere between a third and a quarter of applicants. Who will be lucky? Will it be the girl with the scarred face who hides her wounds beneath her hair? Or the child with a disability who cannot receive the help he needs in his home country? Will it be the pregnant woman or the mother and her two children? Or the little girl clutching a toy she was given in the hospital where she recovered from an illness exacerbated by her days spent sleeping on the ground beneath a bridge in Texas. The helpers will never know. For a few brief hours these travelers become our family but we’ll never know whether they reach their final destinations safely, let alone whether they are granted asylum. All we can do is hope.
- Information about the low rate of asylum requests granted in El Paso courts.
- More information about the el Paso courts.
- Information about hostility to asylum seekers in El Paso courts.
Statue of Liberty photograph attributed to Laslovarga.
Disclaimer: The opinions in this blog are mine alone and do not represent an official Alitas account. Any mistakes are mine and mine alone.