When I brought my friend Joel with me to see if my church needed any help during their "hospitality week" of hosting asylum seekers, I never imagined that a few months later Joel would have become so involved with those hospitality weeks that he would choose to celebrate his birthday there.
Before dinner on his birthday night I joined his family and the asylum seeker families as we all surrounded Joel in a circle. A Guatemalan woman gave him a long blessing in Spanish. Although I could not understand most of the words, their meaning came across plainly and filled my heart in a way that only the most pure form of love and gratitude can.
After dinner Joel shared his birthday cake and ice cream with the families and then brought everyone out to hit a piñata. Children laughed and ran to catch the rain of candy that showered down. A casual observer would never know that these were families who had just spent months traveling and risking their lives to escape situations so harrowing that their stories would bring me to tears.
But that night, because of the generous spirit of a tiny congregation in Tucson, those children got to be children again. They got to laugh and play again. Those families had a brief respite where they could eat good food, shower, relax and feel safe for a few days as they journeyed on their way to their sponsors who would help them complete the asylum process.
It is one thing to hear the statistics about those seeking asylum in the United States, it is quite another to spend time with the families who are being impacted, to hear their stories, to see the love they have for their children, the gratitude they have for the little things we take for granted - food, sleep, shelter, safety.
A few days later Joel shared a screenshot of a translation on his phone from one of the asylum seekers. "As a family we are very grateful. Thank you for all, God bless you."
There is very little that can fill the soul quite like receiving a message like this, and knowing that you are part of a community that values compassion over all else.
Asylum seekers are people who are legally seeking citizenship within the United States. They have committed no crime other than being born in the wrong place at the wrong time. But when they get to the border they are treated like criminals. They are detained until the bogged down courts can process them, and they are forced to give up all of their possessions, including their shoelaces and bras, which are not returned. Sometimes they are separated from their children. Sometimes they are made to wait in dangerous border towns in Mexico for months, where they are vulnerable to predators and human trafficking.
The exact same day that the asylum seekers were blessing Joel for his compassion and sharing cake and ice cream with us, the Supreme Court passed a new ruling by the Trump administration that made it nearly impossible for asylum seekers to get past the border. The rule bars asylum applications from anyone who has not already been denied asylum in one of the countries they traveled to on their way to the United States.
The ruling forces migrants to apply for asylum in dangerous countries where the situations are just as bad or sometimes even worse than the dire predicaments they are fleeing from. It is a terrible, cruel, heartless ruling, and the impact was immediate.
For several months after the ruling there were no hospitality weeks at all. The weeks were scheduled and then cancelled because there were not enough asylum seekers who had made it through the system.
Our hearts broke because we knew what this meant on a very personal level. We weren't just thinking of some abstract idea of an immigrant from a foreign country, we were thinking of the lovely people we had met, who despite all that life had handed them were still so grateful for simple generosity. We thought of all the parents, desperate to protect their children, being turned away from their requests for safety, and it hurt.
Today, January 29th, 2020, is the Faith4Asylum National Day of Prayer and Action to Save Asylum. Wherever you are, please find or start an action this week and join us in asking our leaders to please show some compassion. All people are people. All people deserve respect and dignity.
The church where Joel and I helped out during hospitality weeks is First Christian Church. They will be participating in Tucson this Friday, January 31st at 4:30pm at the Tucson Federal Building, please join us if you're in the area. (300 West Congress)
We can change this tide of cruelty, with the strength of our compassion. People do not leave their homes and communities and travel thousands of miles because they have other options. We do have room for them. We have buildings sitting empty, we have jobs that are not filled, and we have room in our hearts to welcome those who most need it.
Don't turn away from it. Don't think that just because you are lucky enough to have been born in the right place at the right time that you are different or better than those who weren't. Stand up for what is right. Stand up for those who can't stand up for themselves. Join us.
Tell congress now to protect asylum seekers. Thank you!
Since becoming a mom to a little boy with Trisomy 21 I have written a lot about Down syndrome and disabilities. I am a storyteller, wife and mom to a teen and a toddler. Life is busy!