I am in Tucson, Arizona working with recently arrived immigrants from Central America, people seeking political asylum and family members seeking to reunite with their family. As I listened to the radio coverage this morning about the legal challenge to the Refugee and Immigrant ban, I was struck by the explanation that the ban is to keep bad people out of the U.S. Immediately I thought of the conversations at two family shelters in Tucson.
“I’m so excited about seeing my father after 18 years,” a slender, attractive dark-haired woman tells me over a cup of coffee. We are sitting in the basement of a United Methodist church that has opened its doors as a shelter to women and men travelling with young children. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) called the United Methodist Church in November, 2016 to ask for their help. Casa Alitas, the small house that has sheltered women for the past several years has limited capacity. ICE was processing more and more families. Previously ICE dropped them at the Greyhound bus station. Humanitarian groups urged ICE to change this policy and to place Central Americans and others seeking asylum to send them to a interim shelter until their families could provide bus tickets.
Graciela is from El Salvador and is travelling with her four year-old daughter, a sweet faced, shy girl. “We had to leave El Salvador. The gangs demanded that I pay half of my rent to them. I can’t afford that. Plus my husband is a policeman – the gangs and police fight constantly; We were not safe so I left my husband to travel north to reunite with my father.”
www.azpm.org/s/44844-migrants-seeking-asylum-housed-at-tucson-church-marana-makes-plans-for-2017/ an Arizona television program that features the new shelters in Tucson.
QUESTION: Is she a danger to this country?
Juan, a Guatemalan indigenous man, sits down next to me. He is a short, sturdy man with Mayan features. Juan is travelling with his five year old son who loves to play soccer. I watch as he and another boy kick a big ball in the empty basement space. "There is no work in his rural northern town of Guatemala. I have to support my family - the most that I could earn is 40 Quetzales a day or $5 a day. My mother is a legal permanent resident in the United States. She is a pastor of a Pentacostal church. She plans to sponsor us as soon as she becomes a U.S. citizen. As soon as possible, we will bring the rest of our family."
QUESTION: IS HE A DANGER TO THIS COUNTRY?
At another shelter I talk with a young indigenous woman from Guatemala. She speaks softly as she shares her story, "I am going to meet my sister in the Middle West. I come from a poor rural village - my husband is in the United States but he has found another woman. I was living with my mother-in-law and two daughters." Nervously she looks around as she leans towards me, "I am afraid of the bus trip as I don't read or write - how will I know where we are?" I look at her two smiling 7 and 8 year old daughters. "Maybe, they can help you as the oldest daughter knows her letters." Proudly, she says that her daughters will learn quickly and have a better life in the USA.
At the Casa every woman is given a sign in English that explains that the person does not speak English and needs help. I try to reassure her - "many of the bus drivers in the Southwest speak Spanish as do the fellow passengers."
Later, she shows me how to make Guatemalan rice - I am her sous chef chopping tomatoes, onions and garlic. Her face lights up and she laughs, "I love to cook and did all the cooking for my mother-in-law and children."
QUESTION: Are she and her daughters a danger to this country?
Yes, I know that the federal government wants to ban primarily people from certain Muslim countries in the Middle East and Africa. And yet, this same man during his campaign for the U.S. presidency described Mexican immigrants as "bringing in drugs, crime and are rapists." (6/16/15) And later, "We have to stop illegal immigration." (10/19/16) And of course, there is the bigger and newer wall that Trump promises to build that will cost between 12 and 15 billion dollars.
I am heartened by the response to the Refugee ban both legally but most importantly, the people, the religious communities and humanitarian organizations that are moving refugees who met the US standards into the USA as rapidly as possible. And I am absolutely thrilled with my neighbor in Tucson that has this sign in her yard and seeing more signs like this across the community. Get yourself one and make sure your place of worship or work has a Refugees and Immigrants welcome sign or banner! Just do it!