Compassion for Asylum Seekers

 Compassion for Asylum Seekers

Dear Editor:

Immigration is a complex issue. Both major parties and multiple administrations over decades have not resolved it. But the issue remains, as the recent arrivals in New York City of migrants seeking asylum demonstrate.

Rockaway Women for Progress (RWP), which advocates respecting, honoring, and protecting the dignity of all people in Rockaway and beyond, believes that Rockaway can and should address this issue thoughtfully and humanely. We should not approach this rashly, but carefully, with knowledge of the facts and with compassion and caring for our fellow human beings.

The vast majority of migrants coming to NYC now are asylum seekers, many families with small children looking for protection and safety. The idea of asylum came out of the horrors of the Holocaust. People all over the world came to a consensus that we should not sit by as groups of people are severely harmed or killed, even in countries not their own. In 1951, the “right to seek asylum” was signed into international law by the vast majority of countries. The U.S. signed our own national asylum law, with the same guarantees, in 1980. Seeking asylum is not something people do lightly; it is a long and difficult process, but one that the U.S. is committed to.

Asylum seekers are not “complete unknowns.” While this is not the place for a full explanation of the asylum process, it is important to know that asylum seekers represent a small fraction of those seeking entry to the U.S. Before they are allowed in, they go through a preliminary screening at the border conducted by at times skeptical border staff, have a criminal background check, are vaccinated, and need to provide names and contact information for people they know in the U.S., who often pay a bond of $2,500-$10,000 or more for the applicants to be released. They get an ID number and are entered into the ICE database, and have to check in with local ICE representatives regularly in the city they end up in, while awaiting an asylum court hearing, which can routinely take two to five years.  Over 90% show up for their hearings, even five years after arrival. 

Of course, we need to find out information from our elected officials about plans for our neighborhood and our city. But RWP believes that we can approach this situation humanely and we expect that our elected officials will do everything in their power to ensure asylum seekers, including children, are treated with respect and dignity. Rockaway prides itself on taking care of each other, and we do a good job of that. Shouldn’t we extend that care to others in need in our midst? During Hurricane Sandy, many people helped take care of us–government agencies, charities, individual volunteers–many from far away with no connection to us other than their shared humanity. And while many of us lost our homes, cars, and possessions then, we were nowhere near as bereft as these asylum seekers. When the war in Ukraine began, we opened our arms to refugee families who resettled here. During COVID, our city relied on immigrant health and home care workers, food service employees and others. Can’t we extend our care beyond our immediate community in a thoughtful and compassionate way?

Yes, let us demand from our elected officials more information and collaboration about plans for our neighborhood and our city.  But let us also be ready to lend a helping hand when sorely needed.  Our local children and grandchildren are watching us and learning from us. 

Jenna Tipaldo, President

Rockaway Women for Progress

Rockaway Stuff

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