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."
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?