I was all set to write a nice account last week of how “Ben,” the African asylum seeker we’ve sponsored since late 2019, has come through the process. I hoped to report that he had been granted asylum. Instead, Ben is still in limbo.

There have been so many hurdles along the way. I won’t say what Ben went through that made him flee his country in the first place or what it took for him to escape and, over many months, make his way to the US border via Mexico, then across the border and into one of the ICE detention centers, where we first made contact with him, via proxies and by phone.

He was in detention for nearly six months. For some it is less, for many it is much longer. For us and for him it seemed interminable, especially as friends he made along the way were released, one by one, until he was the last imprisoned member of a cohort of about 20 from several African countries who were matched with sponsors in our state. The Trump administration was doing its best to stop immigration, one way or another, with a shifting panoply of rule changes and delays.

Ultimately we had to hire an attorney near the detention center and pay unusually high bond to pry him loose.

Then, the weekend after we met Ben at O’Hare airport and welcomed him to our home, the whole country shut down over Covid-19. An already reluctant bureaucracy stopped functioning altogether and Ben fell through cracks that set him back about a year. Social security number, driver’s license, temporary work permit—which he should have been able to obtain within several months–eluded him till mid 2021. By contrast, friends who had been released from detention just weeks before him were legally driving to legitimate jobs as essential workers by the second half of 2020.

But Ben got his social security number. Yay!

He got a job as a patient care assistant. Hooray!

He learned to drive, got his license, and bought a very old car. Woohoo!

And he was able to move out of our house just over a year ago. While we loved the company of Ben and two other asylum seekers during the pandemic, our house is now freed up for hosting frequent visitors.

The last major hurdles for Ben are the actual legal process for obtaining asylum. He is in the hands of pro bono lawyers in a large Chicago firm and the process is more complicated than I can begin to understand, requiring tons of documentation. It is also highly uncertain and subject to potentially enormous delays (often years), depending on whims of overworked judges and a generally overwhelmed system.

So we were delighted to learn that his attorneys were able to obtain a place in the docket for his merit hearing when another case that had been in that slot was delayed. The merit hearing is before an immigration judge and includes questioning by an attorney representing ICE. On the basis of this hearing the judge decides whether or not to grant asylum.

The date was last Wednesday, September 14. The week before, we took Ben to Chicago for a long, face-to-face consultation with his attorneys, whom he had only met by Zoom, to prepare for the hearing. And we took him to Immigration Court on the 14th.

Ben bought a suit for the occasion and was looking dapper. He was a little nervous. We all expected to hear his fate by the end of the day. Could he stay in the USA or would he be ordered back to his country?

He and his attorneys went before the judge only to learn that the ICE attorney had just filed a motion to continue (delay) the case because the government had not had time to prepare. The ICE attorney participated via a bad Zoom connection and I didn’t understand all the legalese but apparently the excuse was that Ben’s case had been misfiled and confused with the case that had previously been in that time slot.

The judge felt obliged to grant the continuance but promised that she would try to find another slot in her busy schedule as soon as possible. Maybe six weeks or so?

Meanwhile, Ben is still in limbo—neither illegal nor fully legal. Maybe it was a good dry run. Maybe the judge will remember him kindly. Maybe the government will get its act together next time. Maybe things will go his way.

And this is just one immigrant story among hundreds of thousands.

Don’t. Touch. My. Knife.

The story of the asylum seekers continues to unfold. After a year of pandemic/bureaucratic stagnation and frustration, things are starting to move on some fronts. Jeb, the youngest got a renewed work permit for two years. Reluctantly he had agreed to get vaccinated and now he learns that his employer will reward him with $100 for that. Work requires a car and he is newly licensed, the only one of the three who has made it to that step. In a rush to get back to work he rushed to find a car for himself on Facebook. That did not go well and he is out quite a bit of money. However, kind souls in the Notre Dame network offered our three a 2003 Corolla in good condition, absolutely free. Jeb is the only one who can drive it so it is his for now until the others can drive. The three of them are going places in it.

Gradually they are preparing to fly the Pink Lady nest. Continue reading


I’m trying not to think about the election being less than two weeks away. I’m unsubscribing to all the political emails that have been cluttering my inbox, writing “STOP” to all the political texts. I’m barely skimming the headlines, “watching” TV news with the sound muted while I work a mindless coloring app on my phone. I’ve hand-delivered my own ballot to the county clerk’s office. I’m trying to stay focused on the present, the day to day, the hourly.

It isn’t working. I’m still obsessing about November 3. Continue reading

Comfort and joy in the Pink Lady

I have been wondering how to deal with the fact that my life is brimming with good things while others are suffering, and chaos reigns in many aspects of the larger society. There is a scale between guilt on the one hand and smug, oblivious self-satisfaction on the other that I am trying to navigate. A delicate point somewhere on that scale is a state of humble gratitude. It is delicate because it is hard to rest there for any length of time. It becomes easier when I think of gratitude as a mix of comfort and joy. That’s what I have been experiencing lately.

Let me raise a glass to current life in our house, the Pink Lady. I haven’t named her recently or written much here because things have been shuffling and changing over the past months. We are still in a pandemic, which in itself changes things. I haven’t had much new to say about that for a while. But now I see some surprising ways the pandemic has brought benefits to us, thanks partly to the vision we had when we bought this oversized old home three and a half years ago.

Continue reading

From detention to sheltering

Ben has been with us for two weeks. The first week we took it easy. The second week we also took it easy but for different reasons.

The first week we were all catching our breath. He was getting settled into his second-floor suite in our house, greeting friends who had preceded him out of detention in previous months, getting electronically connected. We were doing a bit of shopping for essentials and getting used to each other–which was not at all difficult. We knew each other pretty well after four months of almost daily phone calls. We celebrated his arrival with a party on Friday, March 13. Continue reading

This was the week that was

On Monday at Chicago Midway airport we greeted “Ben,” the long-awaited asylum seeker we’re sponsoring, wrested from detention after more than four months. It was in the nick of time. That center near El Paso was being emptied out in preparation for a whole new batch of refugees coming across the border from Mexico. Hundreds of the previous detainees were being sent to other centers around the country. A few were being paroled. Ben got bonded parole.

Phew. He’s here. Just in time for Covid-19. Continue reading

Good news

Kate Atkinson, one of my favorite writers, wrote a novel called When Will There Be Good News? I don’t remember what the novel was about but the title has been on my mind a lot, as we have waited for Ben to be paroled as well as during the slog through what has to be (Good Lord we pray!) the last year of Trump.

Short answer: Monday, March 2. Good news came on Monday. Continue reading

A letter from prison

“Ben,” the African asylum-seeker whom we are sponsoring, has now been in detention in New Mexico for four months, waiting to be paroled or bonded out. As I’ve written before, he is part a cohort of a dozen or so Africans who came through Mexico and arrived at the border at about the same time—and the last one still in deteIMG_4068ntion.

We’ve been talking regularly on the phone these four months. He calls us Mom and Dad in the African way (he’s actually about the age of our children). We’ve written letters, too. Sometimes it’s easier for Ben, who is a journalist, to express his feelings in writing. The one that came yesterday struck me profoundly. He gave me permission to share it. Continue reading

The state of waiting

I was hoping I wouldn’t have to write yet another “waiting” post. I was hoping that something would shake loose and “Ben” would follow his friends into freedom. Failing that, I was hoping I would be able to turn my creative energies in other directions to so that I would find something totally different to write about.

Neither has happened, although something could happen any minute. See, that is the problem: the expectation that something could happen any minute. Not good. Continue reading

Swallowing the stories

I have been learning gradually that what we are doing–connecting with an asylum-seeking refugee whom we have never met but who is now in detention, hoping to get him paroled to us so he can seek asylum in relative freedom rather than from prison—is kind of a new thing. No wonder it has seemed puzzling, iffy, and kind of ad hoc, with new developments at every turn. Continue reading