‘We all were a precious contribution to strangers in need’


Published: 6/2/2019 8:09:02 AM

On April 15 the Recorder published Richie Davis’ article, followed by a generous editorial, about a Haitian family seeking asylum and my hosting them. Many people have inquired, and I wanted to publicly update, what has become, a community story.

The Debreus family stayed with me for almost four weeks. They left on May 3 for Florida to be closer to family. In recent conversations they indicated that they are well, have an apartment, have found a lawyer and are enjoying the warmth and bathing at the nearby beach. Baby Princessa continues to thrive.

The Debreus’ arrived wearing heavy, uncomfortable GPS ankle-bracelets (in lieu of detainment), with literally nothing but a carry-on size suitcase for the three of them, no money and no contact with family that could receive them. I was happy to receive them and help in any way I could. Four weeks later, well fed, healthy and finally in touch with family, they left with two large suitcases, money in their pockets (the fundraiser raised over $1000), a clean bill of health for Princessa and all the accoutrements needed for her for the first year of her life (bassinet, clothes, car seat, portable crib, mobi wrap, play mat etc.), clothes for themselves, and a sense of safety!

Having now seen it from both sides of the border, I’ve learned more about the asylum process. I wanted to share what ICE required of this one family (our tax dollars at work!) after their harrowing journey to arrive here. 1) Submit change of residence paperwork to two separate ICE agencies within 10 days of arrival. 2) Report to ICE in Burlington two weeks after arrival. 3) Urgent phone call received three days after Burlington: they’re required to report to ICE in Hartford immediately! 4) Junior was still required to wear the GPS tracking bracelet. 5) Junior was required to stay at his “residence of record” every Tuesday from 8-4 for a potential surprise ICE visit to “ensure that he is really where he’s supposed to be.” 7) Merna had her bracelet removed and no restrictions placed on her. 6) Junior had to appear in Hartford again the following week, I’m still not sure why; they benefited by handling the change of address for Florida.

In addition to jumping though those hoops, there is a 12-page Asylum application that must be filled out within the first year of the legal Asylum seeker’s arrival in the USA. Five months after the application is submitted, seekers are allowed a work permit. Basically, government agents control the asylum seeker. There is little avenue for inquiry or negotiation. I wonder how people seeking Asylum, who are likely traumatized and may or may not speak English, are supposed to navigate this system.

Despite the government’s harsh control and only due to the generosity of individuals and local community agencies, the Debreus’ safely settled in for the first time in months. Our local Salvation Army was extraordinary, helping them out with food and clothes and even transportation for Easter services. The CHCFC was quick to get them basic health services so the baby could get her 2 month check-up and shots and the parents any needed health support. Community Action’s Family Center and WIC programs helped them get oriented and support for the baby. So many people came forward with goods, money and good will. I was profoundly touched.

I would be disingenuous if I didn’t also share that all was not smooth or easeful. Cultural differences occurred, as may be expected, creating conflict around priorities, if not values – some of which we dealt with effectively, and some not so much.

This experience highlighted for me the privilege of not having to worry about our basic survival needs, giving us ‘bandwidth’ for other considerations. For me, it invites reflection on (if not the responsibility of) how to better resolve our differences; addressing the question: What is required for us to more effectively communicate (understanding one another) and better resolve our differences?

I started this quest in January, not knowing where it would lead. It’s been enlightening and challenging yet I have no regrets. It was an honor to have had the opportunity to host this family, facilitating their experience of some of what makes America great ... the people and our communities that care! We all were a precious contribution to strangers in need. Thank you!

Should you feel moved to help them financially, the account at Greenfield Savings Bank remains open: Wendy Goodman for Debreus family.

Wendy Goodman, M.Ed, of Beyond Communication is a resident of Greenfield.

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