Sarah Brenes of the Advocates for Human Rights spoke to a group of parishioners about the complex and arduous process that asylum seekers and refugees go through in order to find a legal home in the United States. The talk was titled, “Welcoming the Stranger: Refugees in our Midst.” The number of people across the globe who moved from their home country, either willingly or forcibly, was staggering. According to the United Nations Refugee agency, there were 54.9 million forcibly displaced persons across the globe last year. There were also 14.4 million refugees and 1.8 million asylum seekers.
Asylum seekers must provide proof that they have a “well founded fear” of being persecuted due to their race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group, or political opinion. They must provide that proof in immigration court, and it is must hold up to substantial srutiny by the U.S. government. Many times the seekers are suffering from significant trauma related to the violence they faced in their home counttry, as well as the pain or resettling in the United States. For more information on their organization, please visit Advocates for Human Rights.
Brenes, the lead attorney at AFHR, also spoke about the work her organization does here in Minnesota. One of the many aspects of their organization is helping provide legal services for those men and women seeking asylum. The AFHR is the largest provider in the Upper Midwest of free legal services to low-income people seeking asylum. Luke Olson, a parishioner and attorney, introduced Brenes as he talked about his work helping a woman from Guatemala who was being threatened by gangs due to her status as an indigenous person. Olson helped her win her asylum case last year.
Brenes closed out the talk with highlighting the important support work that other organizations, like churches, can do to help those in need— “welcoming the stranger.” The Basilica will have numerous events in the future to get involved with these issues.