An immigration lawyer's viral post reminds us that every statistic is a human story.

When we only hear immigration numbers, it's easy to forget that each statistic is a human life.

In the debates over people wanting to immigrate to the U.S., the people themselves sometimes get lost. That's partly due the dehumanizing rhetoric of anti-immigration forces, and partly due to the impersonal nature of statistics.

But immigration statistics are people. Some are people looking for better opportunities. Some are people desperately seeking safety. Some are people trying to be reunited with their family. As in any group of people, there are a undoubtedly a few bad apples, but the vast majority are honestly doing the best they can with the hand they've been dealt.


Among those numbers are asylum seekers—people who are literally running for their lives, who have knocked on America's door to ask for protection. These are people facing danger, terror, violence, or persecution in their homeland, and sometimes outside it as well.

Immigration lawyer Eric Pavri shared a harrowing story of an asylum-seeking family to show how asylum works—or doesn't.

Eric Pavri, an immigration lawyer and the Director of Family Immigration Services at Catholic Charities of Central Colorado, took to Facebook to share the story of a single mother from Honduras and her teenage daughter who had been impregnated by rapists.

"The daughter had gotten pregnant at age 13 when five members of the MS-13 took turns raping her," Pavri wrote."They came three nights in a row before the mother finally fled to her sister’s house in another town. There, the mother went to ask police to help. But the police, who are themselves on the payroll of the gang, reported their location to the local gang hierarchy, who cross-checked with the MS-13 cell in their hometown and verified that they had tried to escape. In broad daylight, unmasked men with guns broke down the sister’s doors, dragged them into a car, drove them to an auto repair shop, and raped all three."

I am an immigration lawyer (Colorado bar # 44591) at a nonprofit organization, and I wish to say something.Recently,...

Posted by Eric Pavri on Thursday, April 11, 2019

After four months, the mother managed to borrow enough money from a cousin in the U.S. to pay a smuggler to get her and her daughter through Guatemala to Mexico. Two months later, they presented themselves at a U.S. Port of Entry in Laredo, Texas, and told border agents that they were afraid to return to their home country. The daughter was seven months pregnant.

Pavri went on to describe how mother and daughter were detained and held in separate, freezing cold cells for four days, with no knowledge of where the other was. The pregnant teen shared a cell with 10 other women with only a concrete floor to sleep on, one toilet with no privacy curtain, and their drinking water coming out of a faucet on the back of the toilet.

The mother and daughter were eventually given papers to sign and released to await their asylum hearing. The daughter soon gave birth to a baby boy, who has a hole in one of the chambers of his heart.

The baby is now 4 months old, and despite everything the family has been through, Pavri has had to tell them that they likely won't be granted asylum.

These people are not illegal immigrants. They applied for asylum legally.

There is a lot of confusion out there when it comes to asylum. Some may ask why the family didn't apply for asylum at a U.S. embassy in their home country, but that's not how asylum works. In order to request asylum, you have to be on U.S. soil or at an official Port of Entry. This family went through the proper legal channel.

Some may ask why they didn't seek asylum in Guatemala or Mexico—why come to the U.S.? In a comment on his post, Pavri pointed out that the U.S. has an obligation to respond humanely to asylum requests at our border no matter where the asylum seekers come from. In addition, this mother and daughter has family in the U.S., and many asylum-seeking women have a credible fear of falling prey to sex trafficking cartels in Central America and Mexico.

But Pavri says this family will likely be denied asylum anyway. Their suffering is considered a "private harm," since their rapists weren't motivated by these women's race, religion, national origin, or political opinion.

"In the perverse world of asylum law," wrote Pavri, "what matters is not so much THAT you will be harmed, but WHO will harm you and WHY they will harm you. In a way, we are telling these two women that even here in the United States, the country that they believe will protect them, those men who hurt them are more important. Let me rephrase that. I had to tell them that, to their faces, today. I had to tell them in so many words that because their rapists didn’t rape them for the right reasons, they will likely be sent back to be hurt again."

Pavri explained that being strong and welcoming is what has always made America exceptional.

In a comment on the post, Pavri wrote, "I’ve never thought of the U.S. as being a do-the-minimum country. I was raised by my parents (who immigrated here from Asia and Europe in the 1960s) to believe that we are the greatest nation on earth. A grand experiment. A nation that was strong enough to defeat fascism and totalitarianism during the darkest times of the past century. That’s the great dream that both of my parents wanted to be part of."

"We have a responsibility to be strong, welcoming, and great because that is what makes the United States exceptional," he continued. "I for one am not willing to settle for the minimum when it comes to my country. I don’t want us to just be like any other country around the world. This is the United States. A place that I love, for all its flaws. A place that slowly, painfully, haltingly has kept moving toward living up to the ideals spelled out in our founding documents. The greatest nation on Earth, ever. The leader of the world, by example. I for one am not willing to give that up, to see my country throw in the towel and resign itself to mediocrity."

Pavri asked a pointed question: "Are we now so afraid and little that we don’t want to lead the world anymore? Really, the United States is no longer strong enough to protect this mother and daughter?"

"My dad raised me so that if I saw a kid being picked on on the other side of the playground, I’d go over and help that kid," Pavri concluded. "He didn’t raise me to say, 'Well, there are other people standing closer, so it’s not my responsibility.'"

We may not be able to help everyone, but we do need to remember that these numbers are human beings.

There is no doubt that immigration needs reform. There is no doubt that these issues are complex. But there is also no doubt that fearmongering and prejudice are hampering our humanity.

We don't need to treat people seeking asylum through legal channels like criminals. We don't need to waste resources cranking up the air conditioning and leaving the lights on full blast all night long in detention facilities, just to torture people who are asking for help. We don't need to take people's children away from them to deter others from asking for help. We don't need to make the humanitarian crisis at the border worse with cruel and inhumane policies.

We can treat people humanely while we figure out if and how we can help them. That's the bare minimum a great country should strive for, isn't it?

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Judy Vaughan has spent most of her life helping other women, first as the director of House of Ruth, a safe haven for homeless families in East Los Angeles, and later as the Project Coordinator for Women for Guatemala, a solidarity organization committed to raising awareness about human rights abuses.

But in 1996, she decided to take things a step further. A house became available in the mid-Wilshire area of Los Angeles and she was offered the opportunity to use it to help other women and children. So, in partnership with a group of 13 people who she knew from her years of activism, she decided to make it a transitional residence program for homeless women and their children. They called the program Alexandria House.

"I had learned from House of Ruth that families who are homeless are often isolated from the surrounding community," Judy says. "So we decided that as part of our mission, we would also be a neighborhood center and offer a number of resources and programs, including an after-school program and ESL classes."

She also decided that, unlike many other shelters in Los Angeles, she would accept mothers with their teenage boys.

"There are very few in Los Angeles [that do] due to what are considered liability issues," Judy explains. "Given the fact that there are (conservatively) 56,000 homeless people and only about 11,000 shelter beds on any one night, agencies can be selective on who they take."

Their Board of Directors had already determined that they should take families that would have difficulties finding a place. Some of these challenges include families with more than two children, immigrant families without legal documents, moms who are pregnant with other small children, families with a member who has a disability [and] families with service dogs.

"Being separated from your son or sons, especially in the early teen years, just adds to the stress that moms who are unhoused are already experiencing," Judy says.

"We were determined to offer women with teenage boys another choice."

Courtesy of Judy Vaughan

Alexandria House also doesn't kick boys out when they turn 18. For example, Judy says they currently have a mom with two daughters (21 and 2) and a son who just turned 18. The family had struggled to find a shelter that would take them all together, and once they found Alexandria House, they worried the boy would be kicked out on his 18th birthday. But, says Judy, "we were not going to ask him to leave because of his age."

Homelessness is a big issue in Los Angeles. "[It] is considered the homeless capital of the United States," Judy says. "The numbers have not changed significantly since 1984 when I was working at the House of Ruth." The COVID-19 pandemic has only compounded the problem. According to Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority (LAHSA), over 66,000 people in the greater Los Angeles area were experiencing homelessness in 2020, representing a rise of 12.7% compared with the year before.

Each woman who comes to Alexandria House has her own unique story, but some common reasons for ending up homeless include fleeing from a domestic violence or human trafficking situation, aging out of foster care and having no place to go, being priced out of an apartment, losing a job, or experiencing a family emergency with no 'cushion' to pay the rent.

"Homelessness is not a definition; it is a situation that a person finds themselves in, and in fact, it can happen to almost anyone. There are many practices and policies that make it almost impossible to break out of poverty and move out of homelessness."

And that's why Alexandria House exists: to help them move out of it. How long that takes depends on the woman, but according to Judy, families stay an average of 10 months. During that time, the women meet with support staff to identify needs and goals and put a plan of action in place.

A number of services are provided, including free childcare, programs and mentoring for school-age children, free mental health counseling, financial literacy classes and a savings program. They have also started Step Up Sisterhood LA, an entrepreneurial program to support women's dreams of starting their own businesses. "We serve as a support system for as long as a family would like," Judy says, even after they have moved on.

And so far, the program is a resounding success.

92 percent of the 200 families who stayed at Alexandria House have found financial stability and permanent housing — not becoming homeless again.

Since founding Alexandria House 25 years ago, Judy has never lost sight of her mission to join with others and create a vision of a more just society and community. That is why she is one of Tory Burch's Empowered Women this year — and the donation she receives as a nominee will go to Alexandria House and will help grow the new Start-up Sisterhood LA program.

"Alexandria House is such an important part of my life," says Judy. "It has been amazing to watch the children grow up and the moms recreate their lives for themselves and for their families. I have witnessed resiliency, courage, and heroic acts of generosity."

Simon & Garfunkel's song "Bridge Over Troubled Water" has been covered by more than 50 different musical artists, from Aretha Franklin to Elvis Presley to Willie Nelson. It's a timeless classic that taps into the universal struggle of feeling down and the comfort of having someone to lift us up. It's beloved for its soothing melody and cathartic lyrics, and after a year of pandemic challenges, it's perhaps more poignant now than ever.

A few years a go, American singer-songwriter Yebba Smith shared a solo a capella version of a part of "Bridge Over Troubled Water," in which she just casually sits and sings it on a bed. It's an impressive rendition on its own, highlighting Yebba's soulful, effortless voice.

But British singer Jacob Collier recently added his own layered harmony tracks to it, taking the performance to a whole other level.

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Images courtesy of John Scully, Walden University, Ingrid Scully
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Since March of 2020, over 29 million Americans have been diagnosed with COVID-19, according to the CDC. Over 540,000 have died in the United States as this unprecedented pandemic has swept the globe. And yet, by the end of 2020, it looked like science was winning: vaccines had been developed.

In celebration of the power of science we spoke to three people: an individual, a medical provider, and a vaccine scientist about how vaccines have impacted them throughout their lives. Here are their answers:

John Scully, 79, resident of Florida

Photo courtesy of John Scully

When John Scully was born, America was in the midst of an epidemic: tens of thousands of children in the United States were falling ill with paralytic poliomyelitis — otherwise known as polio, a disease that attacks the central nervous system and often leaves its victims partially or fully paralyzed.

"As kids, we were all afraid of getting polio," he says, "because if you got polio, you could end up in the dreaded iron lung and we were all terrified of those." Iron lungs were respirators that enclosed most of a person's body; people with severe cases often would end up in these respirators as they fought for their lives.

John remembers going to see matinee showings of cowboy movies on Saturdays and, before the movie, shorts would run. "Usually they showed the news," he says, "but I just remember seeing this one clip warning us about polio and it just showed all these kids in iron lungs." If kids survived the iron lung, they'd often come back to school on crutches, in leg braces, or in wheelchairs.

"We all tried to be really careful in the summer — or, as we called it back then, 'polio season,''" John says. This was because every year around Memorial Day, major outbreaks would begin to emerge and they'd spike sometime around August. People weren't really sure how the disease spread at the time, but many believed it traveled through the water. There was no cure — and every child was susceptible to getting sick with it.

"We couldn't swim in hot weather," he remembers, "and the municipal outdoor pool would close down in August."

Then, in 1954 clinical trials began for Dr. Jonas Salk's vaccine against polio and within a year, his vaccine was announced safe. "I got that vaccine at school," John says. Within two years, U.S. polio cases had dropped 85-95 percent — even before a second vaccine was developed by Dr. Albert Sabin in the 1960s. "I remember how much better things got after the vaccines came out. They changed everything," John says.

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