Recently my cousin (who never was a PCV) wrote his story of working with Asylum Seekers to sponsor a Palestinian emigrant. His story is insightful and touching and might suggest to some of us RPCVs how we might become sponsors ourselves. JC
MONTHS AGO I came across a program, Asylum Seekers, which seeks to place such persons with sponsors.
I began the interview process to become a sponsor.
The sponsor incurs financial assistance, especially for the first six months, as asylum seekers are not allowed to work for pay.
Finally, I began to receive notices about potential persons who ran the gamut from Russians to Africans to South Americans, etc.
Subsequently, I narrowed down my interest to some French-speaking men from West African countries. Several never materialized for various reasons.
Suddenly, on Wed. night, April 21, I received a call, inquiring if I would be willing to sponsor a Palestinian man, Anas. He was cleared for entry, albeit a pending court appearance.
The big bonus for me was that he knew English, to some degree, as I was told. I agreed.
He flew from San Diego to Orlando, Friday, April 23, where I met him in the late afternoon.
He was assisted in San Diego by Catholic Charities which were able to provide air transportation through a program called, Miles for Migrants. People donate their frequent flyer miles to this program. Normally, a sponsor would incur the transportation cost as a prerequisite for sponsorship.
Fortunately, I was able to find a local college student who speaks Arabic and English to accompany me to the airport for the hookup. I felt my “sponsee/sponsoree” might feel more welcomed if initially, he could speak easily in his mother tongue to someone, rather than with me, being uncertain of his English. A friend, Rick from Wisconsin, was extremely helpful, with airlines and airports, monitored arrival, gate, etc. so that we could connect at the airport without having to park and go into the terminal. At 82, less is more.
For some time, while aging rapidly, I had been considering someone in the house should I have an emergency. My efforts were not fruitful. Initially, it didn’t dawn on me that an asylum seeker might be that person. But it quickly came to mind as I became more aware of the program. It could be a win-win.
IT’S HARD TO express adequately what a serendipity it has been in an extremely short time. Anas has a very warm personality. His English is beyond my best expectation! If there is a problem understanding him, it is due more to my loss of hearing.
I sensed soon his English was exceptional and his perception was sharp, particularly humor-wise. On the way from the airport, while going through a toll booth, when the attendant informed me of the toll, I asked her if I missed the sale! Anas was in the backseat and I heard laughter immediately!
Once home, the conversation was nonstop.
The ease of communication with Anas is stunning. An unusual repartee, engagement. There was a connection with him that I haven’t felt with people I’ve known for years!
He has an extremely outgoing personality, who I perceive, makes friends easily and quickly. A man in San Diego who had met him upon entry, joined in on phone calls Wednesday and Thursday and spoke enthusiastically of his newfound relationship with Anas.
He smiles easily and is quick to laugh and to pitch in and help. As I learn more about his life story, I don’t know how he can smile and laugh. He desperately wants to bring his wife and four children here; to rescue them from the hellhole that is Gaza.
He is an observant Muslim and is fasting during the day for the month of Ramadan, not eating till after sundown.
He explains the fast is for one to be aware of the poor who often have nothing to eat or drink all day. More of a social focus than solely personal.
He loves to eat and lost 45 lbs. on his journey to the US border. Since leaving Gaza, he’s been on the road for over a year.
And he loves to cook.
Now we share meal preparation.
FRIDAY MORNING I had an unusually high blood pressure spike, something I hadn’t experienced. I was concerned to check it again in the evening when returning from the airport. It was higher than the morning, and perhaps the highest reading I remember!
This is after having taken medication in the a.m.
Anas got on his phone and spoke to his doctor’s wife (unemployed) in Gaza who is now monitoring my BP. Anas suggested that my device may not be accurate. (I’ve had it 5 yrs.) Subsequently, I saw my doctor where the reading was excellent. He wants me to bring the device in to check. The doctor found my device defective.
MY NEIGHBOR next door called the association here, reporting my tree was touching their house. I’m hesitant about climbing ladders.
Saturday morning Anas trimmed it back.
He has degrees in computer engineering and IT. I give presentations using PowerPoint. In passing, I asked if he was familiar with such. Yes. Now he is working with me to make them more professional.
I don’t know where all this will go, but it is off to heights I would never have contemplated.
MY PARENTS were immigrants and this has conditioned me to be especially concerned about the plight of immigrants. Immigrants are risk-takers. This was noted by Isabel Wilkerson in her book, The Warmth of Other Suns, where she describes the millions of black persons who abandoned the South for its repression and lack of opportunity, to take the risk of emigrating to the North and West, even if only degrees better.
She contends they had the entrepreneurial spirit of risk, to change the move to the unknown, only with a desire to improve their living condition.
No small wonder that many immigrants became successful entrepreneurs here.
During his voyage to the U.S., Anas had to leave his passport with a new contact he met in Ecuador because he was warned to go through the jungle of the Colombian/Panamanian border as any valuables could be stolen.
Certainly, my parents had that spirit. Overwhelmingly, no one leaves home unless desperate.
My motivation to connect with Asylum Seekers is the awareness that my parents were risk-takers and ultimately provided a better life for me. I am paying them back for taking the risk by paying forward.
The world is in an increasingly complex immigration crisis where people are fleeing for multiple reasons to survive. Our humanity is being tested. One of the strongest imperatives to meet the issue is in the Christian scriptures: “I was a stranger and you welcomed me (or didn’t)”.
The emphasis in this teaching is on the stranger, not one’s own. Ultimately, there is no stranger when we acknowledge in fact that we are all one humanity. A hard fact for some to grasp!
Appalling, the descendants of immigrants here (and supposed Christians) are not only anti-immigrant but hostile and vindictive to vulnerable persons. They apparently see no disconnect on two levels.
Immigrants depend on the kindness of strangers. I can only speculate on how many kindnesses strangers extended to my parents. One comes to mind – my mother didn’t have the required minimum money to pass through Ellis Island. An American citizen, unknown, came to her rescue.
The program, AS, asks that we commit 6 months to a year. Fortunately, I have started with someone speaking English. And now slogging through the complex immigration issues, might better prepare me for immigrants who don’t speak English and may not have the multiple talents and skills Anas has. Nonetheless, they could be a source for live-ins I desire.
Perhaps you or someone you know may be willing to consider assisting an immigrant?
Or, support this organization, of which, fortunately, there is more than one.
Americans are all descendants of immigrants, most desperate to survive. We pay back those who brought us to this prosperous position by paying forward.
I am seeking an immigration lawyer. If anyone knows of a competent one, please forward information. Personal recommendations are best. Anas had to trek on foot through 150 miles of jungle, at one point in his journey. The bureaucratic jungle is much more formidable, alas!
Emmett A. Coyne (phone 608-628-1098), ordained Catholic priest for Diocese of Manchester, NH. has served in parishes, and taught high school, college and seminary. He has traveled the USA for 24 years to raise consciousness and funds for those living in absolute poverty. He is the author of Theology of Fear (independently published, 2012).