Written by Sarah Wood
In the last few years, I’ve closely followed media reports regarding asylum seekers at the southern border of the U.S. I arrived in Arizona a month ago for a story gathering trip feeling somewhat prepared for what our interviews with individual asylum seekers might reveal about their journeys. I knew the trip would be emotionally heavy.
Since returning from that trip, I’ve asked myself what I experienced that felt different from all the media reports I’ve read over the past months. Getting up close, I did see weary eyes, dusty shoes, and heart wrenching testimonies pouring out of people who reminded me of my own family members.
But that is not all I saw. It was the vignettes of human connection that took my breath away, evoking an unexpected sense of beauty and awe in the midst of bleak pasts and uncertain futures.
I met heroic parents who, after recounting everything they’d suffered, would look at their young children and talk with glimmers of hope in their eyes about their determination to provide a safe life for their kids to grow and thrive.
I saw so many good people--recent immigrants, former asylum seekers, and longtime community residents--all working together, reaching out to love and welcome newcomers. The needs are so simple: backpacks with snacks, toothbrushes, and water bottles for the bus ride, shoes and shoelaces, a shower, and the dignity of being seen by another human being.
A few volunteers recounted how groups sometimes show up to mock and yell at asylum seekers when they arrive in the city. But the volunteers stand, arm-in-arm in front and cheer louder than the people who mock.
I returned home from this trip with a renewed desire to do more to welcome newcomer families in my own town. Everyone can do something to drown out hate with love. We can all go to the places where newcomers are settling in our own communities and cheer louder.
Image credit: TSOS/Kristi Burton
Just as citizens in Europe and the U.K. have heroically supported displaced Ukrainians by opening up their homes or securing other housing, assisting with school enrollments, employment needs, and language learning, Americans now have the opportunity via the Welcome.us Sponsor Circles program to directly help newly arrived Ukrainians. The United States has committed to welcoming 100,000 Ukrainians temporarily for a period of two-years and the ability to apply for employment authorization in the U.S. as long as they have a U.S.-based sponsor to petition for them.
When I was in high school, I was fascinated by geography, and it struck me that there was a highway that I could hop on in my car and drive all the way down into South America. As an imaginative young girl growing up on the Texas-Mexico border, the idea of a road that could take me from my sleepy border town, Laredo, Texas, to the edge of the world in South America, left me awe struck. In high school I learned that this highway is called the Pan-American Highway.
Egette was born and raised in a refugee camp in Tanzania, Africa. In 2021, she graduated with a B.S. in psychology from George Mason University. In 2022, she received her MA in psychology with a focus in Cognitive and Behavioral Neuroscience, also from George Mason. She was recently featured in Forbes on World Mental Health Day. She founded Safe Haven Space, to empower and educate refugee families in the US about mental health and wellbeing.