Detroit Asylum Seekers' Anxieties Rise 02/18 09:25
DETROIT (AP) -- Lucy Neighbor knew that to start over after fleeing torture,
bloodshed and repression in her native Cameroon, she needed to find something
called Freedom House. She managed to reach the place in 2008, and though she
wasn't exactly sure what it was, she felt at home the moment the door opened.
"When you come here, the person talking to you has so much compassion and
love. All the anxiety, all the fear starts just going," said Neighbor, 41, who
became a U.S. citizen last year and now works at a Detroit-area hotel.
Freedom House is a haven in Detroit for asylum seekers that bills itself as
the only facility in the U.S. providing temporary housing, legal aid and other
services under one roof and at no charge. For more than three decades, the
nonprofit organization has welcomed immigrants from around the globe,
especially Africa, Latin America, South Asia and the Middle East.
But now, residents and staff members are anxious about the future as
President Donald Trump tries to close the door to many newcomers to the U.S.
"They're scared, they're crying. Many of them are having PTSD, flashbacks,"
said Freedom House executive Deborah Drennan, who is known as "Mom Deb."
In addition to trying to bar nearly all refugees, block travelers from seven
Muslim countries, build a wall at the Mexican border and cut funding to
immigrant-protecting "sanctuary cities," Trump made it clear in an executive
order signed last month that he intends to take a harder line on asylum claims
to "end the abuse" of the program.
Drennan said there are fears that more applicants for asylum will be
detained, deported and, ultimately, consigned to death in their home countries.
"It gets me big afraid because I don't know what's happening in the future,"
said a 29-year-old Freedom House resident from central Africa, who would not
give her name or country out of fear for her safety and her family's. She said
she was jailed in her homeland for protesting the government.
Foreigners who arrive in the U.S. can win the right to stay permanently if
they can show a well-founded fear of persecution in their homeland. It takes
years for asylum cases to be decided, but between 2011 and 2015, an average of
46,000 requests were made annually and about 9,500 were granted each year.
Freedom House was started in 1983 by faith and community organizations to
help a flood of refugees fleeing the civil war in El Salvador. Based in a
former convent, it can hold roughly 50 residents and provides medical and
mental health care, job preparation and English classes. Residents also play
games and music, and cook in a large kitchen overflowing with the sound of
laughter and the scents of savory concoctions.
They can stay for up to two years while they get their feet on the ground.
Freedom House has an annual budget of $750,000, 60 percent of which has come
from the Department of Housing and Urban Development. The agency recently
announced it was cutting the funding as it shifts priorities to permanent
housing programs. Drennan said Freedom House is appealing the decision but also
trying to fill the gap with more donations from individuals, companies and
Neighbor was an opposition party member in Cameroon, where, she said, she
was beaten and raped in jail and her husband and teenage son were killed. She
said sending desperate people back to the country they tried to escape is "like
killing someone twice."
"Just give them the chance, like I got this chance," she said. "If they sent
me back, I would be dead."