The media often presents a sharply polarized and incomplete understanding of immigrants in general and asylum seekers in particular. It is easy to become frustrated or overwhelmed looking for answers in the midst of so many divergent viewpoints.
Whether you lean left, right, or somewhere in the middle, there is a place for you with DASH, and we hope this page can bring some clarity to a subject that can often feel opaque: who are asylum seekers?
In our pursuit of unity and clarity, let’s answer this question by looking at some facts:
Article 14 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UNDR) declares:
Everyone has the right to seek and to enjoy in other countries asylum from persecution.1
The Universal Declaration of Human Rights was written by a United Nations committee chaired by Eleanor Roosevelt. It included politicians and philosophers from many members of the UN who worked together to create a document broad enough to be adopted by all participating nations and specific enough to be meaningful. The US and other members of the UN unanimously adopted the UNDR on December 10, 1948. Since then, it has been the prevailing international standard on human rights. The right to seek safety from persecution is a widely recognized and cherished human right and has been for over 70 years.
Building on the UNDR, the United Nations Refugee Agency explains why seeking asylum is an essential human right, which cannot be withheld from any person:
Seeking asylum is a fundamental human right. Everyone has the right to life and liberty. Everyone has the right to freedom from fear. Everyone has the right to seek asylum from persecution. These human rights don’t change based on race, religion, sex or nationality. Human rights don’t change based on whether you seek safety by land, air or sea. People fleeing war and persecution have few options. Most are faced with impossible choices to find protection for themselves and their families.2
The following history of US involvement in welcoming those fleeing persecution was copied from a legal brief written by a group of lawyers making an argument against the legality of the Migrant Protection Protocol. The brief is called: Brief of Amicus Curiae Local 1924 in Support of Plaintiffs-Appellees’ Answering Brief and Affirmance of the District Court’s Decision. We have removed the notations for easier reading:
- America has provided a safe haven to the persecuted since even before its founding, with the country’s roots sprouting from the footsteps of Pilgrims fleeing religious persecution onto a Massachusetts shore in November 1620.
- [In the mid-19th century,] two million Irish fled starvation and disease wrought by the Great Famine, with 840,000 passing through the port of New York and many more arriving by way of Canada.
- Our Nation’s treatment of refugees, however, is not unblemished, as demonstrated by United States policy towards Jewish refugees during World War.
- In many ways, our Nation’s refugee policy since the Second World War has sought to rectify our humanitarian failures during the most devastating of international conflicts. Immediately after the war, the United States played a leading role in the formation and funding of international aid organizations such as the United Nations International Children’s Emergency Fund and the World Food Programme. […] After the war’s end, […] President Truman directed the issuance of 40,000 visas to resettle the survivors in the United States. Congress also took action by enacting the Displaced Persons Act of 1948 […] that allowed for the admission of 415,000 displaced persons by the end of 1952.
- After the Cuban Revolution in 1959, the United States began admitting more than 58,000 Cubans fleeing persecution […] And in 1965, President Lyndon B. Johnson opened the country to all Cubans seeking refuge from Fidel Castro’s communist regime.
- In 1980, Congress enacted the Refugee Act, which sought to convert the existing ad hoc approach to refugee resettlement to a more permanent and standardized system for identifying, vetting, and resettling refugees. […]
- In 1994, the United States ratified the United Nations Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (the “CAT”), which it had signed in 1988. Article 3(1) of the CAT provides: ‘No State Party shall expel, return (‘refouler’) or extradite a person to another State where there are substantial grounds for believing that he would be in danger of being subjected to torture.’
- Our country’s process for dealing with displaced people is highly respected internationally. It has been highly adaptable, and it has effectively offered protection to qualified asylum seekers while also ensuring the enforcement of applicable laws and addressing national security concerns by working to mitigate fraud and abuse by bad actors. […] In total, since the Second World War, the United States has granted entry to nearly five million refugees, representing well over 70 nationalities.
Today, the world is experiencing yet another surge in displacement wrought by conflict, civil war, famine, and violence. […] Now, perhaps more than ever, America needs to continue its longstanding tradition of offering protection, freedom, and opportunity to the vulnerable and persecuted.3
The value immigrants add to our community can be measured in many ways. While there are several more categories in which immigrants add value to the DFW area, we have chosen to highlight the impact of immigrants on our economy, safety, and culture.
In the summer of 2019, the Dallas Morning News published a helpful article showing the fiscal impact of immigrants in our community. In Dallas alone, immigrants account for as much as $10 billion in spending power and pay at least $1 billion in taxes. Of the more than 500,000 immigrants living in Texas, at least 97% are working, primarily in difficult-to-fill construction and service jobs. In fact, the shortage that exists in the supply of construction workers in our area is a major factor in the increased costs and time of building a home.4
In addition, the American Immigration Council reports, “[a]s consumers, immigrants add well over one-hundred billion dollars to Texas’ economy. Texas residents in immigrant-led households had $112.8 billion in spending power (after-tax income) in 2018.
Immigrant entrepreneurs in Texas generate over ten billion dollars in business revenue.” They continue, “[…] immigrant business owners accounted for 29 percent of all self-employed Texas residents in 2018 and generated $10.8 billion in business income.”5
Some of the rhetoric used to describe immigrants–especially asylum seekers and refugees–could lead one to believe that these people are dangerous, that they increase the crime rate in their communities. On the contrary, the American Immigration Council reports, “For more than a century, innumerable studies have confirmed two simple yet powerful truths about the relationship between immigration and crime: immigrants are less likely to commit serious crimes or be behind bars than the native-born, and high rates of immigration are associated with lower rates of violent crime and property crime.”6
The cultural impact of immigrants in our community is much easier to see: “Immigrants change culture for the better by introducing new ideas, expertise, customs, cuisines, and art. Far from erasing the existing culture, they expand it. Nowhere is this more clear than in the United States, where hundreds of different ethnic groups live in harmony under the banner of the American flag building a collective culture. Immigrants have brought blue jeans, Google, tacos, Apple, hip-hop, and way too many other things to the US than we can list here.”7
Preemptive Love, a humanitarian organization that works to create unity and peace in war ravaged parts of the world, offers these helpful distinctions between asylum seekers, refugees, economic migrants, and immigrants:
A refugee is any person who has been forced to flee their country due to war, persecution, or because their home government cannot or will not protect them.
When a refugee flees, they are registered with an official agency, such as a government or the United Nations, which allows them to gain access to state and international aid and assistance.
Refugees have legal protections guaranteed by the United Nations Refugee Agency, or UNHCR, including economic and social rights, and the ability to bring immediate family with them. Every refugee is initially an asylum seeker, although not every asylum seeker becomes a refugee.
Asylum seekers are not officially designated refugees, but they have appealed to achieve refugee status. They are leaving their country of origin in order to escape war or persecution due to their nationality, race, religion, or political affiliation.
Under recent decisions made by US Attorney General Jeff Sessions, it is very difficult for immigrants to seek asylum in the United States based on gang and domestic violences, even if the immigrant’s home government does not provide adequate protection. As a result, families fleeing threats of death by gangs are considered migrants (see below) and generally not granted any special protections or permitted to seek asylum in the US.
Migrants are people who are leaving their home country and pursuing residency in another place, generally to find work, seek education, or to be reunited with their families. Unlike refugees, migrants can return home to their country if they wish.
Some believe that the term migrant should be redefined as a more precise, neutral term. As currently defined, a “migrant” might be someone who relocates for a job, just as easily as it could be a mother fleeing Guatemala because of horrific gang violence. The two situations are not comparable, but currently the same label would be applied in both cases.
An immigrant is an individual who willingly leaves their country of origin and legally enters another country where they are granted permission to permanently resettle, thus qualifying them to work without restriction.
Their reasons for wanting to resettle can be many—from a longing for economic prosperity or a better education, to the fulfillment of a dream or reunion with family.8
Seeking asylum is a lengthy and arduous legal journey for persons seeking freedom from unspeakable persecution at the hands of their own government or non-state agents’ that the government is unable or unwilling to control. Most Americans cannot fathom the darkness that asylum seekers experience overseas, in transit, and here in our country.
Seeking asylum is not an easy avenue to take. Read “Understanding US Asylum” for information about the legal processes an asylum seeker must take to be granted asylum.
Our founder, Ashley Freeman, explains in her book that asylum seekers may be the most underserved people group in our country today, with a variety of unique challenges:
- Asylum seekers are not eligible for work permits for roughly 2-3 years. As they are also not provided any social services, most are uncertain as to how they will provide for their own basic needs and the needs of their families. This waiting period fluctuates in length based on changing US laws.
- Asylum seekers have often gone through extreme trauma very recently. Most arrive before having time to heal and process what has happened, and all have to rehash the story of their trauma time and again until their cases are decided.
- The circumstances that caused asylum seekers to flee their country were often very abrupt; they may not have had the time to say good-bye to loved ones, gather or sell cash, documents, and belongings, or make plans for their survival here.
- There is no national system and standard for welcoming asylum seekers into our country and helping them land on their feet. In fact, the United States is the only developed nation accepting asylum seekers that does not offer either social services or work permits to entering asylum seekers.
- Asylum seekers typically flee suddenly and arrive alone, rather than being resettled alongside friends and family members. This level of isolation can add yet another layer of trauma and hopelessness to an already traumatized and hopeless person.
Seeking asylum is not a “loophole” in the immigration system; instead, it is a long, complicated legal process for persecuted persons to obtain safety and protection.
In her book, Ashley Freeman paints a picture of the inhumane conditions found in detention centers using recent news reports and stories from asylum seekers she knows personally, who have first-person experience with life in detention.
The detention facilities that currently exist at our borders are not equipped to handle the number of asylum seekers being held there, a number that sees consistent increases due to changes in US immigration policy. This has led to massive overcrowding and deteriorating conditions. Several recent news reports9 document these inhumane conditions:
- Lack of food/nutrition
- Lack of sanitation
- Lack of medical care
- Lack of care and supervision for young children
- Lack of adequate bedding
- Lack of access to legal counsel
In stark contrast to detention centers, DASH Network provides individuals and families with dignified housing in a reputable apartment complex in downtown Fort Worth (not named here to protect resident’s privacy). Residents receive fully furnished apartments, complete with toiletries and sanitation supplies. In addition, we provide food from local food banks and churches, grocery volunteers, and donated gift cards. Children have access to local public schools, benefiting their mental, emotional, and social health. Furthermore, we employ a full time social worker, who assists residents in finding local resources for things such as medical care, clothes, and mental health services. Read about our full spectrum of services here.
Interestingly enough, DASH Network costs 79% less per individual than ICE detention centers. ICE facilities cost $133.99 a day per adult according to DHS. It costs DASH, on the other hand, around $25 per day to give asylum seekers a much higher quality of care.10
Some argue in favor of detention, suggesting that freeing asylum seekers leads to missed court appointments and other delinquencies, but this was proved untrue:
Recent data shows that asylum seekers continue to appear for immigration court proceedings at high rates. In fiscal year 2018, Department of Justice (DOJ) figures show that 89 percent of all asylum applicants attended their final court hearing to receive a decision on their application. When families and unaccompanied children have access to legal representation, the rate of compliance with immigration court obligations is nearly 98 percent.11
Statistically, asylum seekers are very eager to do what it takes to secure their status and taste more fully the freedom and opportunity America has to offer. With all of this in mind, it seems an increased number of community organizations like DASH Network could be an excellent alternative to detention.
Lastly, according to Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service, “Immigration detention in the United States has become “big business,” and it continues to grow. Over 71% of the billions of dollars in annual government funding for immigration detention goes to private prison companies.”
For more information about the history, statistics and current epidemic of detaining immigrants, visit Detention Watch Network online
Some argue in favor of detention, suggesting that freeing asylum seekers leads to missed court appointments and other delinquencies, but this was proved untrue:
Recent data shows that asylum seekers continue to appear for immigration court proceedings at high rates. In fiscal year 2018, Department of Justice (DOJ) figures show that 89 percent of all asylum applicants attended their final court hearing to receive a decision on their application. When families and unaccompanied children have access to legal representation, the rate of compliance with immigration court obligations is nearly 98 percent. (Human Rights First)
Statistically, asylum seekers are very eager to do what it takes to secure their status and taste more fully the freedom and opportunity America has to offer. With all of this in mind, it seems an increased number of community organizations like DASH Network could be an excellent alternative to detention. For more information about the history, statistics and current epidemic of detaining immigrants, visit Detention Watch Network online.
The reality many asylum seekers face when they leave their home country for an unknown, foreign land is widely misunderstood. Imagine giving up everything familiar to you–friends, family, community, foods, business, financial security–and heading into the unknown to save your life or the lives of your family members. Laureate Warsan Shire, a 27-year-old, Kenya-born, Somali poet describes this experience best:
by Warsan Shire
home is the mouth of a shark.
You only run for the border
when you see the whole city
running as well.
Your neighbours running faster
than you, the boy you went to school with
who kissed you dizzy behind
the old tin factory is
holding a gun bigger than his body,
you only leave home
when home won’t let you stay.
No one would leave home unless home
chased you, fire under feet,
hot blood in your belly.
It’s not something you ever thought about
doing, and so when you did –
you carried the anthem under your breath,
waiting until the airport toilet
to tear up the passport and swallow,
each mouthful of paper making it clear that
you would not be going back.
You have to understand,
no one puts their children in a boat
unless the water is safer than the land.
Who would choose to spend days
and nights in the stomach of a truck
unless the miles travelled
meant something more than journey.
No one would choose to crawl under fences,
be beaten until your shadow leaves you,
raped, then drowned, forced to the bottom of the boat because you are darker, be sold,
starved, shot at the border like a sick animal,
be pitied, lose your name, lose your family,
make a refugee camp a home
for a year or two or ten,
stripped and searched, find prison everywhere
and if you survive
and you are greeted on the other side with
go home blacks, refugees
dirty immigrants, asylum seekers
sucking our country dry of milk,
dark, with their hands out
smell strange, savage –
look what they’ve done to their own countries,
what will they do to ours?
The dirty looks in the street
softer than a limb torn off,
the indignity of everyday life
more tender than fourteen men who
look like your father, between
your legs, insults easier to swallow
than rubble, than your child’s body
in pieces – for now, forget about pride
your survival is more important.
I want to go home,
but home is the mouth of a shark
home is the barrel of the gun
and no one would leave home
unless home chased you to the shore
unless home tells you to
leave what you could not behind,
even if it was human.
No one leaves home until home
is a damp voice in your ear saying
leave, run now, I don’t know what