“I Hope to...
“I Hope to Find a Way Out”: Bonding out Asylum Seekers in New Hampshire
On August 24, some 200 marchers from four New England states met at the Strafford County detention center in New Hampshire where immigrants are held. They conducted a mock funeral ceremony for immigrants killed at the Mexican border; as they marched by the prison they could see detainees pressed against the slim rectangular glass windows and hear them pounding against the walls.
The first speaker said:
We gather here today outside the Strafford Detention Center in solidarity, witness, grief, and hope.
We are here in solidarity with our siblings detained within.
We gather here to witness to a broken system that uses black and brown bodies for profit, dehumanizes Muslims, cages children and causes death.
We gather here today to mourn the dead, and we are here today to call for a different future.
The bond fund we are working to create aspires to be part of this different future.
Some immigrants came to New Hampshire just recently, seeking safety after suffering repression at home. Others have lived here for decades, working and raising families. Increasingly, ICE is imprisoning members of both groups. The good news is, many detained immigrants are eligible to be released on bond. But that takes money that they often don’t have. Here are some of their stories. Their names have been changed for their protection:
Harold escaped certain death in the Congo, his home country, for his ethnic identity. His family went into hiding, but Harold fled to the U.S. on a visa —only to be seized by ICE at the NH-Canadian border. His crime? Attempting to cross over to Quebec where people speak French, his native language. Thanks to help from our fund and other supporters, Harold was bonded out and is now living at the UU Church of Manchester while awaiting his day in immigration court. In the meantime, Harold has received his working papers, NH driver’s license, and he has landed a new job.
Sally, from Zimbabwe, was jailed by ICE on a routine traffic stop. She described jail to us as “the worst thing that can happen to a person.” Personal power and choice are taken away. Sally told us that no soap or lotion are provided and there is no opportunity ever to go outside. Officials took her documents and subsequently lost all of them. Sally was bonded out through the help of the United Church of Christ. Recently she had her asylum hearing and she won her case!
John recently wrote us from the Strafford County detention center, where he’s been held for the past year. It’s been harder than he imagined it could be. “I got detained a month after my daughter’s birth,” he wrote. “I feel that I have failed her as a father. I wasn’t there for her when she needed me. She’s been through two surgeries already before she even turned one year old, and I wasn’t there for her…I am in a dark tunnel. I hope to see the light soon. I don’t know how long I can go on.”
Working in concert with immigrant organizers, UUs from across New Hampshire, and other communities of faith, the New Hampshire Bail and Bond Fund is working to pay immigrant bonds, which can be anywhere between $1,500 and $20,000 per person, and to provide other support to immigrants fighting for asylum.
The need for bond money is as great as the cause is compelling. As John wrote, at the end of his message “Because of you I might be saved. I hope to find a way out.”
Sponsorship of Asylum-Seeking Immigrants
In response to the hostility and injustice aimed at immigrants to this nation, The Community Church created our Sanctuary and Immigrant Support Ministry. Last year, after a lengthy period of self-education and discernment, our congregation voted overwhelmingly to become an official Sanctuary Congregation. As such, we pledge to open our hearts and our church to poor and oppressed people who come to our borders seeking survival, safety and well-being. Our mission extends to people needing church sanctuary to avoid deportation, refugees in need of emergency housing assistance, and asylum-seekers, who arrive from Latin America and elsewhere seeking asylum due to the extreme dangers they face in their home countries.
The Manse (former parsonage) has been refitted to house immigrants.
Our church campus includes an old minister’s residence or manse which is located in a secluded space. In recent years, it had fallen into disrepair. We have worked long and hard to clear out, clean up and repair this structure to make it a habitable and welcoming space for immigrants in need of housing and other supports to avoid deportation. In January of this year we completed this work and announced to the larger community our readiness to receive an immigrant into sanctuary.
Concurrently, another related and urgent need surfaced. Individuals fleeing Central America to seek asylum in the United States are in desperate need of safe options as they wind their way through the asylum processes. Because of the backlog of cases, asylum seekers are waiting a year or more before their asylum determination hearing. Escalating stresses on the system suggest the backlog may grow dramatically in the coming months and years. Those seeking asylum cannot enter the U. S. until they have a sponsor; the sponsor or a surrogate is required to pay the bond that must be posted before the immigrant can be released to the sponsor. Often there are no family members available or able to fulfill the related responsibilities, which are considerable. Beyond the bond are the burdens of adding another person to a household when the new addition is not allowed to work for at least five months after arrival. Churches are beginning to mobilize to meet the needs of those awaiting asylum.
In April, our Sanctuary and Immigrant Support Ministry determined that we could best use our physical and human resources by making ourselves available to someone in the slow pipeline of asylum determination. After contacting a church-affiliated “matching” organization, we were put in contact with lawyers working at the southwest border near San Diego, California. We were matched with a 21-year-old female asylum-seeker from El Salvador who, since November, 2018, was held in detention in California awaiting a sponsor. At her bond hearing on May 15th, her appearance bond was set at $5,000 of which Community Church has paid $2,000, plus transportation to North Carolina. She arrived with few clothes, no personal hygiene products, no English language skills and genuine gratitude that she has found a community to welcome and support her.
Our current guest goes through a bike safety check with a church volunteer.
Meeting the bail and plane fare expenses has been burdensome. Ongoing costs are considerable and include housing, medical and dental care, clothing and personal care needs, food and transportation, acculturation experiences including language classes and safety. We are writing this request to help defray these costs and to maximize the help that we can provide. We have already been asked to take in a second asylum-seeker, and in May we had a refugee from Cuba who stayed with us for four weeks. We are hopeful that once we have secured adequate funds to afford the needs of our current resident, we will be able to meet the needs of additional immigrants.
Steering Committee session.
Nurture Justice Ministry in NH!
The mission of UU Action New Hampshire is to amplify Unitarian Universalist voices and values in the public square throughout New Hampshire. After running for two years as an entirely volunteer organization, this spring, we hired Tristan Husby as our first Executive Director, in order to take our work to the next level. Your donations will help us fund Tristan’s new position, which is funded in large part by a matching grant from the Fund for Unitarian Universalist Social Responsibility.
As our only staff member, Tristan is growing our organization through relationships, education, and action.
Our goal is to build and sustain relationships with communities directly impacted by the injustices we oppose: Tristan will deepen our connection with the immigrant communities in New Hampshire, which we have formed through our work on the NH Immigrant Solidarity Network as well as the NH Bail and Bond Fund.
In the 2019-2020 church year, Tristan will travel to UU congregations across New Hampshire, both our member congregations and currently unaffiliated congregations. By building these intra-faith relationships, Tristan will foster collaboration among congregations and ensure that churches share effective methods and actions with each other.
He will also remain in touch with our membership by maintaining our online presence, including our newsletter, website and social media accounts. Through these channels, Tristan will ensure NH UUs know when and how to contact their elected representatives on bills such as granting drivers licenses to immigrants without social security numbers and raising the cap on net-metering.
In collaboration with partners such as the UU College of Social Justice, Rights and Democracy NH and others, Tristan will host workshops designed to sharpen the skills and analyses of NH UUs to make effective change. We currently have such workshops scheduled for Saturday, October 5.
Finally, Tristan will help UUANH foster new projects, particularly around climate justice in NH.
Your donation today will ensure that we can support all of this programming, as well as administrative work, that is necessary to take our State Action Network to a new level.
Destination Dignity! Partnering with Refugees in Greece to Build a Vocational School and Worker’s Cooperative.
This a wonderful opportunity for UUs to partner with refugee communities in Greece as they seek to re-establish lives of worth and dignity. Over 65,000 refugees have been trapped in Greece for more than 2 years. Many are beginning to lose hope and to despair of ever being acknowledged as anything other than a “refugee.” This Worker’s Cooperative in Athens will be the first of its kind in Greece: designed, managed, and staffed by refugees….and supported by UUs!
Our purpose: to prepare people with vocational skills suitable for employment while also producing products and services for sale in Europe and the United States. Our on-site partners have skills in engineering, computer software, construction management, and numerous indigenous crafts. The engineer who will manage the workshop has two years of experience making furniture for refugee camps and cafes from recycled wood and metal scavenged from the streets of Athens.
Our goal is to provide enough financial stability to support at least one year of operation. Your Faithify contribution in support of our $10,000 goal will be matched dollar for dollar by an anonymous private foundation! Twenty thousand dollars will be sufficient to rent a workshop and to support vocational classes for 12 months.
Once established, we will seek sustainable support from individual donors, governmental agencies and foundations. With skill, determination and some luck, the cooperative will generate supplemental revenue to support its workers and its vocational programs. Our local partners currently plan to offer training in welding, jewelry making, woodworking, embroidery, and computer software. The board of the cooperative will make the final decision as to what skills offer their clientele the greatest possibility of employment and design their programs to accommodate those needs. The board will then select skilled trainers who are best qualified to deliver its vocational training programs.
Shared Humanity plans to establish an on-going supportive relationship with individual UUs and UU congregations and invite donors to come to Greece to work in our cooperative community. We UUs are called upon to be supportive of people who have lost their livelihoods, their homes, their communities, and most tragically, their loved ones. Our actions, and in-actions, will have a lasting impact on ourselves and those we hope to serve. Now is the time to move towards rather than away from the refugee crisis. Join us in supporting people who have as their ultimate destination……. Dignity.
For more information about Shared Humanity USA watch our in-depth video, Delivering Hope and Dignity in Greece
“As Unitarian Universalists, we are called to live out our values of social justice in the world. Shared Humanity USA, founded by UU couple, Latifa and Colin Woodhouse, is an example of putting our faith into action. This program will give refugees the tools and skills that will affirm their inherent worth and dignity. They will work collaboratively with each other to create a sustainable way forward for displaced people. I hope you will support this Faithify campaign in the way you are able.” Aisha Hauser, Director of Lifelong Learning at East Shore Unitarian Church, Bellevue, WA.
“Tragically, our world is experiencing the greatest refugee crisis since World War II. Martha and Waitstill Sharp, my grandparents and founders of the Unitarian Universalist Service Committee, risked their lives to save innocent people violently uprooted by war- and in doing so- left us a legacy that we Unitarian Universalists honor by our steadfast commitment to justice, equity and compassion. I am proud to be an enthusiastic supporter of Shared Humanity and invite you to join me in supporting this wonderfully innovative project that will be the first workers cooperative established in Greece by and for refugees.” Artemis Joukowsky III, PBS Producer and Co-director with Ken Burns of Defying the Nazis: The Sharps’ War
“We support the Worker’s Cooperative in Athens as a way to give refugees a chance for a purposeful life. This is a very innovative and well thought out approach to giving refugees the skills they will need to rebuild their lives. The facts that this operation is fully staffed by refugees and the raw materials used are recycled show that not only do we care for people was also care for our mother earth.” Susan Goekler, Chair, Commission on Social Witness and Mac Goekler, Chair UU Peace Ministry Network
Help Us Build Sanctuary
In April of 2017, the congregation of the First Unitarian Church of Providence, Rhode Island voted overwhelmingly to become a Sanctuary Church. In the months since then, we have been hard at work creating a space, making community connections and coming up with a plan for how we will carry this out. We are currently the only church in RI we know of close to being ready to offer sanctuary.
Extra seating doubles as a sleeping area for family.
One of the final hurdles we face in being ready to take in a guest is to install a shower in our building. This is why we are launching this campaign. We need to raise money to install our shower, replace the current sink and plumbing in the room, add a countertop to the kitchen area, and install a lock on the door. These items will make our sanctuary space feel like a home away from home for the guest or family who seeks our help. Can you help us meet our fundraising goal of $7,500.00?
If for some reason we are not able to fulfill our goal of becoming a sanctuary church, we will donate any unused funds to another sanctuary project in our area.
This journey we are embarking on is filled with uncertainty, but as Unitarian Universalists, we feel called to stand with and support those in our community who are vulnerable to unjust deportation. We feel called to resist those who would break up families and communities based on discrimination, fear, and hate. We thank you for considering our call to help.