On May 19, 2020, after attending Episcopal Migration Ministries’ webinar “Immigrant Detention during COVID-19: Prophetic Action & Compassionate Response,” Diane felt moved and inspired to volunteer in support of asylum seekers. A faithful Episcopalian and local advocate for immigrants, Diane had been following the news of immigrants in detention and knew she had room in her heart and home to sponsor a family. At the end of the webinar, Diane clicked the “Volunteer Here” button on the Freedom for Immigrants (FFI) website, submitted three references, and was contacted within a week to be matched to a family being released from a Texas Detention Center. One week after submitting her application and corresponding with FFI and RAICES, Diane arrived at the airport with a name tag and a “Welcome” sign in Portuguese to greet a family of three – a mother, father, and 5-year-old child.
“The family fled their native country of Angola as gangs threatened to kill the entire family if they did not provide the equivalent of $10,000 in Angolan currency. Within hours of their son’s birth, the father was kidnapped. If he didn’t pay, all three would be killed. The gang beat him until he was unconscious. He awoke with a broken arm and was covered with blood. As their lives were in danger, they gathered their belongings into two large bags and made their way to Brazil, where they lived in a slum and could not find work due to systemic poverty. Survival in Brazil was difficult, so a decision was made to seek asylum in the U.S. They walked from Brazil through Central America to the Mexican/US border. They walked for a full year.”
After retiring from her career as a public health nurse, Diane is using her skills and expertise to provide support to the mother and child who both suffer medical issues. Diane’s dedication and commitment to welcome are made possible by a small group of friends and supporters. Living in a conservative neighborhood and unsure of the reception of those around her, Diane receives overwhelming support from an interfaith group of eight people, her local church, and folks she met while advocating for local immigrants. Her small but mighty team of supporters have provided suggestions for lawyers, food for the family, virtual learning opportunities, prayers, and emotional support. Even as Diane insisted she did not need assistance with food for the family, a supporter involved with the local Food Bank insisted, “We are going to do this, and you are going to accept it.” The relief from food support allows Diane the flexibility she needs to assist with medical bills for the mother’s surgery.
The experience and process have not been without hurdles. Even as the proper paperwork was filed, there have been unexpected exchanges with ICE and the threat of detention. Diane credits her connection to an immigration attorney at the start of the process as a foundational piece of successfully navigating the sponsorship process. Her initial commitment was for three to six months, but she quickly learned from her attorney that the entire parole process can take up to three years. Through an interpreter, Diane assured the family they can stay with her up to three years and are free to leave when they want. The father has secured employment as a gardener, the child is learning to read through Zoom calls with a retired teacher, and the mother is preparing to receive much needed surgery. When asked why a single retiree would choose to open her home and her heart to sponsor a family, Diane replied, “I’ve had a good life and it’s time for me to give back.”
How You Can Help:
- The mother in the family does not yet have a SSN and is not eligible for financial assistance from the hospital where she will receive her much-needed surgeries. The medical costs are all self-pay and must be paid upfront before the hospital will see her. They require $9,000 up front before performing the needed exploratory surgery. Debbie’s friends have started a GoFundMe page to help with medical costs: https://gf.me/u/yq552i