GUIDANCE FOR ASYLUM-SEEKERS, HOST FAMILIES AND SUPPORT CIRCLE
Supporting families seeking asylum is an act of faithfulness to God and a testimony to the love of God. However, it can involve many challenges for the asylum seeker, the host and the volunteers who provide help and support. Central American countries are going through a nightmare of violence from organized crime, poverty, social instability and persecution of those who seek to improve their communities and society. Leaving to seek refuge is a hard and traumatic process which often includes terrifying, exhausting and humiliating experience. Many families have been separated for long periods of time. In the United States, asylum-seekers face a complex immigration system and an uncertain future - as well as a strange culture and new society.
As brothers and sisters in the family of God, we are committed to walk together as guests, hosts and supporting volunteers in the work of justice for people seeking refuge. This guide and accompanying forms are designed to help the process.
Your support is important to our work at ECAS. There are many ways you can contribute towards our causes, and every little bit that you commit goes a long way in helping us fulfill our mission. Learn more about how you can get involved and take advantage of the opportunity to do some good.
PRINCIPLES WE UPHOLD:
The Ecumenical Collaboration for Asylum Seekers (ECAS) has a set of principles which govern our work together –
Immigrant-Centered: The asylum-seekers make the decisions about their lives, not their sponsors/hosts or support circle.
Independence-Interdependence: Our goals are to both support the immigrant guests in attaining independent capacity to navigate this society and also to support them in finding and developing a caring community.
Faith-Centered: We are prayerful people and commit to pray for each other.
WORKING TOGETHER ACROSS CULTURES
This all works best when Spanish-speaking and English-speaking congregations and volunteers work together as a team. Some jobs are best done by the English-speakers and some by the Spanish-speakers. It is important to honestly evaluate who should provide what. English-speakers are often better at navigating systems - legal, medical, school, ESL classes - and sometimes have more transportation capacity or resources. Spanish-speakers are usually better at visiting and encouraging the asylum-seeker, introducing them to the city, and helping them to find housing and work when the time is right. The asylum seeker may naturally prefer to attend church with the Spanish-speakers (although sometimes the experience of an English-speaking church can also be useful and interesting.)
We recommend (1) that everyone who does not speak Spanish or English learn to use google translate, (2) that there is an initial meeting of the guest, host and key leaders of the support circle to work out a covenant or detailed agreement. (3) that there is someone designated to check in with the asylum-seeker and the host regularly (ECAS organizer) to see how it is going in the initial stage, and (4) that there are several people designated who they can call with questions or to translate between them.
There are a variety of ways to organize the support circle, including specific responsibilities for individuals or teams and/or a list of people who can be called upon as needed. There can also be a team leader, the sponsor can be in charge of calling on the team members for help, or the guest can call the support circle as needed. One way of making sure that there is someone responsible for helping with transportation to appointment is https://www.carecalendar.org)
THE GUEST, HOSTS AND SUPPORT CIRCLE WILL NEED TO KNOW
Their legal situation, including when and where their check-ins will be. The first check-in is usually the first week.
How and where they can sign up for MediCal and make health appointments.
English classes in the area.
Bus and train information for the area.
Counselors with expertise in Spanish, trauma, immigration.
Inexpensive Cell phone options
How they will find the initial resources to buy food, personal items and clothing (it can cost $100-$500 before donations kick in.)
TYPICAL CULTURAL UNDERSTANDINGS
Individual/Communal: Central Americans tend to be more communal. This shows up in handshakes or hugs when arriving and leaving, expecting to eat together, welcoming guests etc. Anglos in particular often have more physical distance, feel comfortable all eating separately and do not often have guests drop by.
Pets: Many Central Americans do not have pets in the house; most Anglos do.
Different Background: Central American asylum-seekers come from all social classes but some have not had as many opportunities for example to learn to read well, use certain appliances or visit a therapist so it is important for hosts and supporters to be sensitive to these potential differences. For some indigenous guests, Spanish is a second language. Cultures can have very different ideas about how men and women should communicate or relate to each other. Some cultures are less likely to challenge authority or powerful individuals, particularly if they have lived under oppression.
THE REALITIES OF BEING A REFUGEE:
They may have very little clothing and need to buy right away.
It can be very painful to remember or relate their traumatic story. A host should not pry or ask a guest to share their story with others.
The guests are in a vulnerable situation. Before working on a covenant together, it is important for someone who they would trust and is not the host to have a conversation about the various aspects of the covenant, particularly the most delicate aspects, such as whether or not they want to do little jobs around the house. They often want to have work to do around the house, to feel that they are giving back or to avoid boredom and depression; however, it is important that they do not feel pressured to work in exchange for staying with the host.
Asylum-seekers come with a variety of sexual orientations and gender identities. Often, they have experienced discrimination and abuse in their country of orientation. They may need special attention in order to feel welcome and receive appropriate care. This includes medical and therapeutic services designed to serve them.
VICTIMS OF SEXUAL VIOLENCE:
When women have been raped or have suffered sexual violence in some form, they may not feel comfortable with men or in certain situations that trigger trauma. They may also need special medical and therapeutic services.