Asylum seekers (like refugees) are those who flee persecution and danger in their home countries and seek safety in a new land. There is often confusion between the terms “asylum seeker” and “refugee.” While the stories of asylum seekers and refugees are often similar, they fall into different legal categories. Asylum seekers are those who claim to be refugees, but whose claims have not been legally evaluated before arriving in the U.S. Once an asylum seeker has formally been granted asylum through the U.S. courts, they are then referred to as an asylee.
In the United States, asylum seekers must engage a lengthy and complicated legal process, sometimes lasting a number of years, during which they are not eligible for any type of government assistance. After applying for asylum, it typically takes 5-12 months just to receive permission to work, leaving asylum seekers systematically vulnerable. It is very difficult for them to find stable housing, access to food, and reliable transportation when they are not allowed to legally earn an income. There are around 3,000 asylum seekers in Minnesota, hailing from around the world. Asylum seekers are our neighbors. They have survived terrible hardship to get this far, only to find themselves in situations where they face the ongoing trauma of poverty, uncertainty, discrimination, and in many cases detention.
We believe that Jesus clearly instructs his disciples to walk alongside vulnerable people with compassion. Jesus himself was a child refugee who sought asylum in Egypt while King Herod slaughtered young boys near Bethlehem (Matthew 2:13-18). If it were not for the charity and welcome of the Egyptians (yes, the same people who had originally enslaved the Israelites) there would be no Christian Gospel. Because they found safety in a foreign land, Jesus flourished and grew to preach and embody a message of God’s love for all people, and especially for the vulnerable, outcast, and oppressed. We believe that as disciples of Jesus we are called to engage in compassionate relationships with our global neighbors, and that these relationships have the power to transform us all.