We are excited to announce The Basilica of Saint Mary will be partnering with Lutheran Social Services to sponsor a refugee family. We are proud to be able to respond to the call from Pope Francis for parishes to sponsor refugee families.
It is not only difficult to underestimate the suffering of refugees, but also the struggles in transitioning to life in the U.S. As an attorney, I have had the opportunity to work with refugees seeking asylum in the U.S. and have seen how important it is to help families navigate the trials of resettling here.
This year, I worked with a woman (I will call her Maria) who was seeking asylum in the U.S. from Guatemala. As a child, Maria was persecuted at the hands of the Guatemalan government. When she was born in 1981, Guatemala was in the midst of a bloody civil war, and the government had begun to wipe out entire villages of indigenous groups, including Maria’s group, the Q’anjob’al, for fear they were part of a rebel resistance. When Maria was three months old, the Guatemalan military came to her village, and brutally killed her father, five-year-old brother, and burned all their family’s belongings.
After the war, Maria was able to resettle with her mother and sister in Guatemala. She later married and had two children. In 2007, her husband moved to Minnesota to be able to better provide for the family. He soon began sending her money regularly. However, during this time, a gang known as M-18 had become very powerful in Guatemala, with members across Central America, Mexico, and Southern California.
The gang discovered that Maria’s husband was sending her money and began extorting her. The gang eventually became dissatisfied with their cut and began issuing death threats to Maria and her two young children, who were now nine and seven years old. Fearing for her life and the lives of her children, she fled Guatemala with her children to the U.S. in hopes of reuniting with her husband and starting a new life.
After traveling overland for two weeks, they were detained as she crossed the border in San Diego. Fortunately, after several months of court battles, a Minnesota judge granted Maria and her two children asylum. She is now living in Alexandria with her husband and two children.
Obtaining asylum was a monumental relief for Maria, as she was now safe from the M-18 gang, however there were still significant hurdles adjusting to a new life in the U.S. For example, no one in the family speaks English. Maria’s first language is her indigenous dialect and her second is Spanish, so she is now learning a third language from scratch in a foreign country. In addition, Maria’s husband was undocumented while living in the U.S. He will soon have asylum, but we had to apply for it separately and the application has been pending for six months.
Maria was also four months pregnant when she was granted asylum. We had to spend hours working with MNsure, Maria’s and her husband’s employers, and the U.S. government to track down the correct documentation to provide Maria basic health insurance so that she could have her baby (who was born healthy in September).
These are just a handful of the myriad of issues that Maria has faced and will continue to face as she adjusts to life in the United States. But she is also one of the lucky ones. She represents one of the few refugees that got the resources she needed to be resettled. Had she not had these resources, who knows if she would be alive today.
For these reasons, The Basilica is both excited and proud to be able to sponsor a refugee family and help them navigate these same issues and adjust to life in our Twin Cities community.