‘Good people surround us’
A participant holds a sign during a March and Rally in Support of Immigrants and Refugees in Texas in 2017.

‘Good people surround us’

In four years, the Community Asylum Seekers Project has helped 17 adults and children, mainly from Latin America, with basic needs and support as they seek refuge in the U.S.

SAXTONS RIVER — These words brought tears to my eyes.

“They are not European immigrants celebrated at Ellis Island, but they are our continent's immigrants, here, now. I don't have a lamp, and there is no golden door, but I lift my eyes to meet them, to see them, and to say, Welcome.

They were uttered by Steve Crofter, founder of the Community Asylum Seekers Project (CASP), and they speak volumes about the mission of a volunteer-driven organization begun four years ago to provide basic needs and support for people in the process of seeking asylum in the U.S.

Crofter was motivated to start CASP while volunteering with asylum seekers in Texas in 2015. He remembers his favorite place to help. “It was at the showers. Sometimes my face was wet from the showers, but often it was tears running down my cheeks. I was so aware of the humanity and the individuality of the people who came to this rest stop.”

A year later, CASP was formed as a nonprofit organization and began creating living space for an asylum-seeking family, aided by the support of community members who contributed labor, materials, and funding.

In 2017, the first asylum-seeking family was welcomed by CASP, and a volunteer case manager was hired. By 2019, a sixth family had arrived, two-part time staffers were hired, and CASP volunteers received that year's Unsung Heroes Award from Compassionate Brattleboro.

Today, CASP continues to find local homes for individuals and families, supports their daily needs, and offers legal guidance as their guests navigate the asylum claim process. CASP also assists in guests' achieving independence.

To date, a cadre of volunteers and two staff have helped 17 adults and children, mainly from Latin America. They've also reunited a 4-year-old child with her mother after two years apart, and two other children were reunited with their mothers after shorter separations.

It's a small step in light of the tragedy of children torn away from their parents, perhaps forever, as news of more than 500 kidnapped kids surfaced in recent weeks.

But every step counts when it comes to reunification, and other attempts to end the nightmare of current immigration policies.

* * *

Volunteer Susan Brace, who hosted the first guest in 2017 and now serves on the nonprofit's board, understands this all too well. She supports the organization because “I need to take action in the face of what asylum seekers go through trying to escape horrendous situations in their home countries that give them no choice but to undertake dangerous journeys to the U.S. border to seek asylum.”

“I'm ashamed that our government is doing everything in its power to deny their human rights to safe and peaceful lives,” she adds. “If we can get a few folks out of dangerous ICE detention centers and support their asylum process, we should absolutely do that.”

Carol Davis, another volunteer, adds, “It's inspiring to see my friends start their new lives here. Their courage and determination are inspiring. They push on through sadness. They struggle with a new language and culture, and with challenges of daily life. Witnessing them is memorable. It's an honor to be trusted to help.”

As CASP grows, the organization is addressing new challenges and key questions.

“What is our place as people with privilege who offer a chance to live in a community?” Crofter asks. “How much should we insist that they do things we ask of them, like learning English?”

* * *

Kate Paarlberg-Kvam, CASP's executive director, reflects on the organization's growth and development, especially during a global pandemic. She says CASP must consider new options in meeting the needs of asylum seekers.

But, “a crisis can be an important introspective moment, and this is a time for us to reflect on what we have done, what works and what needs nurturing or tweaking,” she says.

Much of the discussion about CASP's future revolves around heightened awareness of how the organization's work “segues with and is inspired by the racial justice movement,” Paarlberg-Kvam says. “This is a potentially transformative moment, and we need to look at interconnecting dynamics as CASP works to transform our community in holistic ways that value what new Vermonters bring to our communities.”

While CASP grapples with those large issues, its guests continue to feel grateful for the help they've received.

Says an asylum seeker from Honduras who arrived in 2019, “CASP gave us a roof over our heads, food, and many other things. We are very grateful and we feel fortunate to have come to this community.”

“Good people surround us,” the asylum seeker adds. “We know we are not alone. We have people who support us from their hearts. Their smiles fill us with emotion.”

Who wouldn't smile, or become a bit emotional, at that?

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