Over the past four years, our country’s failed leadership has tried to distract from its massive shortcomings by targeting immigrants of all backgrounds. Particularly troubling is the unprecedented attack on asylum. Asylum is the process by which individuals who have a well-founded fear of persecution in their countries of origin are able to immigrate to the United States. Unlike refugees, who are identified while still abroad and given assistance to settle here, asylees must first find their own ways into this country, which is often an extraordinarily difficult process. Lost in the debate over asylum are the stories of harrowing journeys, unimaginable sacrifices, and audacious hope. Each asylum seeker who works with Seeking Asylum & Finding Empowerment (SAFE) has such a story.
For years, Daniel planned his escape from Russia. Early on in his life, he had come to the realization not only that he was transgender but that he had no future in that country. Despite the barrage of anti-LGBTQ+ messages, Daniel developed a strong sense of self and an awareness that he had the right to live free from discrimination and violence. Last year, when he was just seventeen, he made it to New York City with his mother Sophia. Sophia’s unconditional love for Daniel had already helped them survive in a society that actively encourages parents to abuse and disown their LGBTQ+ children. In fact, Sophia had seen the devastating impact of homophobia and transphobia and taken it upon herself to become an affirming adult in the lives of the queer youth Daniel had befriended in Russia. Faced with the decision, once in New York, of whether to return or stay, Sophia knew she could not leave Daniel at this point in his journey With little but each other, Sophia and Daniel have started their lives here. They will have to face a whole new set of challenges navigating a strange culture in a new language and now the COVID-19 crisis, but they will be free from the overwhelming fear they left behind. Asylum is, and should remain, a fundamental statement of our country’s humanitarian commitment to welcome in and care for individuals who seek sanctuary. We owe it to heroes like Daniel and Sophia.