Field notes, perspectives, stories, news & announcements
May 16, 2022
Two years ago, the IAFR Jonathan House team walked into the Federal Building on a rather gloomy afternoon. We went to meet a man who was being detained there, hoping that our presence at his bond hearing, and accompanying offer of a housing sponsorship, would sway the judge’s decision in his favor. We filed into the court room and sat in the back row as he was brought in by an asylum officer.
Even his sneakers were orange!
His hands and feet were shackled. He was dressed in an orange jumpsuit. It was a rather jarring scene considering he had never been convicted of a crime. Still, what struck me most were his shoes. “Wow,” I thought to myself, “even the sneakers are orange?” As if handcuffs and prison weren’t bad enough, they make you wear ugly shoes too? It seemed like an unnecessary and intentional knock at his dignity.
Nonetheless, he was granted bond and a few weeks later a local immigrant congregation took a spontaneous offering that brought in enough money to post his bond. He joined us at Jonathan House and over the course of two years, he became a dear friend to our staff. We went to church and took camping trips. We played tennis and ate burritos. He helped us move and we helped him learn to drive.
Needless to say, his orange shoes were no longer the thing that struck me most about him. In fact, I had forgotten about them entirely until a few weeks back when I found myself shifting around, trying to get comfortable in the back row of a small court room in the Federal Building. It was another gloomy day. The whole Jonathan House staff was present to support our friend in telling his story.
We sat quietly through his hearing as he recounted the details of his displacement up until the point when our stories collided two years ago. If you’ve never been to an asylum hearing, it feels a bit like watching sports when you’re more of a coffee-and-a-good-book type of person. It’s hard to follow what is happening and who is winning. But in the end, the decision was clear. He had been granted asylum!
I struggle to articulate the mix of joy, pride, victory, and relief that filled that moment. He had come so far and faced so much, and now he had a place to call home. We hugged, and cried, and laughed, and prayed. I turned back to the judge. She cocked her head and grinned. And with that, our friend walked out of that building for the last time.
As he did, I looked down at his shoes. Cognac colored penny loafers. I smiled. They were brand new he had told me. I found them a fitting replacement for the orange sneakers. He looked refined, confident, and free. A small detail, perhaps, but for me they told a powerful story of how far he had come and of all the places he has yet to go.
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- Kelsey UelandBack to the Blog