Word came today from a contact who is working with asylum seekers in detention on this side of the border that our refugee’s latest interview did not go well. His officer was threatening to deport him because he’d entered the country after the law had changed to require application for asylum from outside the country. But the refugee, whom I will call Ben, which is not his real name, had actually requested asylum from two different places outside the country.
The officer questioned whether Ben met the “credible fear” requirement for asylum—that is, whether his fear of returning to his country was legitimate. But along with our sponsor affidavit, Ben had presented documents to prove he’d been arrested and tortured there. What more could he do? The officer then asked for something he didn’t have, his birth certificate. Now, apparently, that has become available and is being sent.
What else will be asked of Ben? He is truly at the mercy of his jailers. Some are fair and kind and some not so much.
I’d been concerned about having enough advance notice of his release so that we could rearrange our busy schedules to meet him when he is flown to Chicago. (Southwest Airlines is flying these folks free. Fly Southwest!) This concern is orders of magnitude teenier than everything he faces. I worry about rearranging bedrooms and what food to shop for while he takes the brunt of our evil system after going through much greater evil in his own country. I calculate how to fit everybody into the house for Thanksgiving, while a thousand miles away Ben is still on a rollercoaster of hope and fear.
These scriptures were read in our church service yesterday:
Leviticus 19:33-34 — 3 When a foreigner resides among you in your land, do not mistreat them. 34 The foreigner residing among you must be treated as your native-born. Love them as yourself, for you were foreigners in Egypt. I am the Lord your God.”
And from Matthew 25: Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.
This scripture, and the sermon preached by a friend who is an immigrant, moved me and I sat wiping tears throughout the service (also thinking of a recent tragic death in the congregation). I’m not sure why I was so emotional. I tend to brush off comments from friends that imply we are doing something extraordinary by taking an asylum seeker into the Pink Lady, which has three extra bedrooms, each with its own bath. The opportunity came up to help and we seized on it. Why not?
But hearing these very familiar scriptures, not as instructions or commands but as descriptions of what we are trying to do, was powerful. Oh, indeed, that is why doing something like this feels much more like a privilege than a duty. This is one little piece of what it means for us, in this time when cruelty seems to reign, to be on the side of the angels, to build Christ’s kingdom.
Please keep Ben in your thoughts and prayers. I do not say that lightly.