Weekend event for asylum seekers, and a field trip: revisiting the idea of hosting

I want to update earlier comments on what ordinary US citizen can do to help asylum seekers, LGBT or not.  This area would particularly focus on the possible opportunities to host asylum, seekers in private homes.

I did a little field trip today (April 30), 150 miles to the SW (of Arlington VA) to Farmville, VA, where I looked at the grounds of the detention center.  It is on a side road a half mile north of US 460 heading east into Town.  The land is sloped so that you can barely see the corrugated buildings from eye level.  There were some buses with opaque windows.  After snapping a couple pictures I saw the “no trespassing” and (especially) “no photography” signs so I drove away quietly, but I was on a public street.  This facility, run by Immigration Centers of America, was said to be one of the more comfortable and dorm-like facilities at the DC Center Global meeting April 1, 2017.  At that meeting, an attorney from Capital Area Immigrant Rights Coalition spoke.  The possibility of developing a program to support release of some detainees on “parole” with contributions and housing was discussed (previous summary by me).

Saturday (April 29) I had visited  a fundraiser event in Bethesda, MD for the Asylum Seeker Assistance Project.  Right now, the Eventbrite link has the best list of the way donations may help asylum seekers.

I had conversations with two attorneys and others at the event.  Some details are sensitive, so I’ll summarize the gist of what I found out a high level.  This is not legal advice, but more a marker for what potential hosts might expect and for how immigration policy (especially for asylum issues) might be debated.

Let’s backtrack to revisiting the differences between supporting refugees and supporting asylum seekers.  Today, refugees vetted overseas in detail before they are allowed to migrate to the US (this is getting even stricter under Trump and refugee processing seems suspended right now).  Volunteer efforts are supervised by social services agencies (often faith-based) licensed with DHS and can also monitor the use of DHS funds. These agencies work with local groups, often congregations (synagogues, mosques) which in turn supervise groups of 20 or more people who help a refugee family, which is usually placed in a commercially managed apartment.  In Canada, by comparison, the volunteer groups are smaller (like about 5) and volunteers accept specific legally driven financial responsibilities for refugees that resembles foster parenting.  This is called “private sponsorship”, which the United States does not have.  To my mind, Canada gets a lot of things right;  the Hollywood world with which I am familiar has outstanding young adults raised in Ontario, especially.

Asylum seekers are already here and by definition usually would not have been vetted before they arrive.  If they arrive illegally and ask for asylum and can establish credible fear, they are likely to wind up in detention. As noted already, some activist groups want to raise funds to help release asylum seekers from detention.  But a significant number of asylum seekers arrived here legally with visas for work or school, and then overstayed them.  Usually, to remain here legally the asylum seeker needs to have asked for asylum within one year of original arrival.  If the “credible fear” is established, then the asylum seeker’s presence in the United States remains lawful until a hearing of some kind.  If the request is turned down, there is often a right to appeal.  But eventually, it is possible for this process to run out, after which the asylum seeker’s presence would become illegal and he or she would be subject to deportation.

Typically, there is a period of six months or longer (apparently starting when the seeker’s presence would otherwise be illegal) cannot get federal benefits and is not allowed to work.  An asylum seeker not allowed benefits or to work would need financial assistance, and especially housing (and possibly medical).  There is no formal DHS-driven system of social service supervision for which funds are available.  Therefore, the onus would fall upon private individuals and grassroots-style organizations to provide for them, especially if they become homeless.  (Homeless persons normally would not be put back into detention and could not return home on their own unless they had funds, which could then mean the return home to the expected persecution.)  This would be more challenging personally than normal “volunteering” in a structure refugee assistance situation.  Off hand, it would sound like it might be easier to assist a wide number of asylees in private homes than by purchasing or renting building for them.  Nevertheless, right now, based on what I was told Saturday, right now the greatest interest is in raising funds to purchase or rent buildings as shelter.  It’s worth noting here that, while the US does not recognize the idea of private sponsorship of refugees, it does allow private “sponsorship” of migrants apply for visas under I864 documentation from hosts willing to guarantee support (usually family), and the work “sponsor” has sometimes been used loosely in connection with parole from detention.  There does not seem to exist a legal concept of a “custody” relationship between the host and asylum seeker, so it seems unlikely that host could be held responsible for a seeker’s medical bulls (even if he or she could pay them), although I can imagine right-wing attempts to impose such a liability

So it would sound as if live-on housing provision could sometimes be risky for the host.  One of the points of the 6-month wait for benefits is apparently to discourage ‘frivolous” asylum application, often right after illegal entry.  The government (even pre-Trump) reasons that a person would normally be sheltered only by someone who knows the person well, usually a relative.  If someone has personal contacts with a personal interest in assisting the person, then that person represents less of a “burden” or risk for the public.  So assistance organizations are put in the position of building the social capital that would simulate that of relatives or close friends.   From a security viewpoint, the lack of vetting overseas has to be replaced by having people who know the person already.  That would sound easier with someone who already had been here legally with a work or student visa.

The risks are well worth enumerating.  Life cannot be made risk free, but one should understand risks and try to minimize them, and organizations asking others to step into such risk help to assess the risks. For example,  if asylum is denied while the person is hosted and the appeals are denied, the host could eventually be put in the position of harboring an undocumented alien.  While the practical risk of prosecution is low (even under Trump), it can’t be ruled out completely.  How a host should behave in a situation like this needs to be thought out in advance.  This is indeed the “seeing around corners” problem that Dr  Phil talks about that activist groups often ignore. (It is not clear to me whether a host is responsible for seeing the asylum seeker’s paperwork proving legal presence in the country, when the asylum seeker moves in.)

Along those lines, hosts could be concerned with the strength of an asylum claim and whether it is likely to prevail, as well as the length of time of the seeker’s need.  This has to do with notions like belonging to a “particular social group” or with expressed political opinion.  One wonders whether the current administration, under AG Sessions, could try to gut the idea that LGBT no longer meets a PSG standard.  I am told there is no actual indication that the Trump administration is trying to do this, and the inclusion of LGBT in the PSG rubric is established now by court precedent.

Of course, giving a key (or security code) to your home to a “stranger” crosses a line for most people (including me), and on the face it could put neighbors at risk, too, creating another moral dilemma. (“Emergency BNB” was discussed here Dec. 16, and Airbnb is lucrative, after all.)  This is much less of a concern to people who have “less to lose” (the “Rich Young Ruler Problem”) and particularly people who live in strong systems of social capital (the “Lotssa Helping Hands” model in many faith-based groups)  Politically, libertarian groups like Cato Institute and writers like Charles Murray have been making these observations more often, in the past five years or so.  With social capital, the idea then is that the overall risk (including to others) is marginal, rather comparable to taking on a foster child or employing a live-in caregiver.  (And here, it is well to note that it is possible to provide foster care to minors in detention in some unusual circumstances, but these efforts are closely monitored by state social services)

There are some other issues.  Allowing someone to use your Internet router can bring certain risks, which have been discussed here already (Jan. 31). Part of the solution is to set up separate guest accounts.

I don’t deny that there can be many benefits to hosting. At 73, in a larger than necessary home, it could facilitate future medical appointments and provide another responsible person here in case of an accident.

In some areas of the country, especially southern California, some (largely church) groups are making a point to shelter undocumented immigrants, outside of the law.  Some say that their faith compels them to do this.  I do respect the need for resistance (and I do respect the legal arguments, based on the 10th Amendment, made by sanctuary cities recently), but I think that sometimes we need to learn to distinguish among the ideas of resistance, activism, and service.  They are not always the same.  Likewise, social capital and solidarity are related but not identical concepts.

I linked to the two Washington Blade stories asking for hosts, on July 21, 2016 (sixth comment for an August story), and Oct. 15, 2016, but here they are again (August, October).  DC Center Global most recently referred to this request on November 11, 2016 (after Donald Trump’s election).

Here is an earlier personal statement on what I can do myself with hosting.

It is worth remembering that massive calls for hosts went out for the Cuban refugee (really asylum seeker) Mariel Boatlift in 1980, as at Metropolitan Community Church in Dallas, where I lived at the time.  It was not well thought out and few people did it.

Readers should also be familiar with the case Lozano v. Hazleton (PA), 2007.  I’ve added the ACLU link. But as far as I know, the law is unlikely to regard a host as a “landlord” anyway (unless the asylee actually pays rent); but you wonder what the “alt right” could cook up.

(Posted: Monday, May 1, 2017 at 11:45 PM EDT)

Update: Wednesday, May 3, 2017

Dzubow has an important piece  or blog post on when asylum seekers could reasonably fear detention or arrest today.   I was not aware that anyone with any conviction of a serious offense could even be considered for asylum.  But there is also an issue concerning arrests without convictions.  But Dara Lind also writes today on Vox, that Donald Trump’s non-policy on immigration has been a “success” for white and native-born people, by making non-white immigrants more fearful of asking for help when they need it, and for making settled and insulated Americans more reluctant to have much to do with them personally — a concern I have heard expressed at churches and at Center Global.

I even feel that Hillary Clinton’s remarks about how she lost the election in the last 12 days to Comey, the FBI, Russia, and fake news is relevant.  Had she won, it is likely I would be hosting someone now. I’ve never said that before, but I think it is time to say it now. Putin (whose name was not to be mentioned) has literally reached into the US and made it harder to help LGBT people who fled his country.  International issues and government corruption can indeed affect us very personally and very suddenly.

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