Members of the HT Migrant Team gather with the "familia" at their annual fiesta.
September 26 is World Day of Migrants and Refugees. The primary theme for the day is "Towards an ever wider 'WE.'" In his letter announcing this year’s theme, Pope Francis emphasizes that "this focus calls on us to ensure that after all this, we will think no longer in terms of ‘them’ and 'those,' but only 'us.'" And this universal us must become a reality first of all within the Church which is called to cultivate communion in diversity.
The Holy Trinity Migrant Team, led by parishioner Jeanne Rossomme, celebrates three years this fall. While primarily a direct service team, the parishioners involved stay rooted in prayer and in social justice and work to address the root issues that cause many to flee their homes. The Migrant Team emerged following our parish support of the Cheikho family and was launched with Mario. Today, the team accompanies 11 individuals and families, many joining our migrant familia during the pandemic.
Faces of the HT Migrant Familia
Bernadette & Marie were referred to us by their lawyers from the Georgetown Law Center right before the COVID shutdown. Bernadette was an advocate for human rights in her home country of Gabon - work that caused her to be persecuted and then flee to the US. When we first met Bernadette, she was in a temporary basement apartment, had lost her work and was struggling to get groceries and a birthday gift for her then 5 year-old daughter Marie. In this past year, Bernadette has won her asylum case, moved into a beautiful apartment in Silver Spring close to jobs and transportation, and was the top student in her English classes. Marie is an amazing little girl with mastery of all her classes and now extremely excited to attend her school program in person.
Enrique and Yosselin fled the drug violence in Honduras in 2019 with their four boys. The family arrived at the Kino Border Initiative, having made their way through Guatemala and Mexico on foot and bus as part of the migrant caravan. COVID-19 has made their lives very uncertain. The team continues to provide support with housing, medical care, legal support through Just Neighbors, educational support and food insecurity. The family is so excited each week to see the abundant groceries with milk, meat, fresh fruits, and vegetables and the occasional “goodie.” With help from the parishioner transport team, the boys took swimming lessons and summer enrichment classes. Thanks to the generosity of Dr. Culotta-Norton, the boys are getting much needed dental care. (Most of our families have never had formal dental care.)
Etienne and Olga along with their four beautiful children have navigated this year of pandemic quite well despite ongoing economic hardships. And there have been many angels at work. First, a nonprofit organization offered to send them a substantial rent subsidy for six months. Next, a generous Holy Trinity family gave the Mbalas their gently used car. With this car, Olga is able to take her children to medical appointments, school, and other places without having to pack all of them up to ride the Alexandria City buses. Additionally, Holy Trinity’s parishioners and Catholic Charities have been donating nutritious food for the family on a weekly basis, so they do not have to wait in long food distribution lines where the quality and quantity of food are not consistent. And for their part Olga has done an incredible job of ensuring that their 3 older children Jolcy (age 8), Christina (age 7), and Joldony (age 5) actively participated in “Zoom School,” while keeping toddler Blessing (who just turned 2) occupied. Olga has also reached the last level of the English as a Second Language program and is doing one-on-one conversational sessions on Zoom with a volunteer teacher. She is hoping to find a part time job in a grocery store or other retail establishment once the children are back in school this fall. Etienne, who was a criminal and civil rights lawyer in his home country, has been searching for better paying work over the past year.
Mario F. is a young man seeking asylum after fleeing Nicaragua. Mario is sponsored by a family at Holy Trinity, and his hearing date is scheduled for 2024. Our Migrant Fund supported Mario’s basic living (clothing, housing, food, transportation) and medical/dental care through May of 2020. Gainfully employed by a local tech company, Mario is thriving. He is an active member of the team, generously donating his time to counsel new members on the challenges and opportunities they face. Mario is an active member of Our Lady Queen of the Americas, often playing guitar at Mass. He is a volunteer at the Washington English Center which assists new immigrants in improving their English skills. Thanks to new parishioners, Ryan and Natalia, Mario is also the proud owner of a car.
Mario J. is also a young man who fled Nicaragua after protesting the injustices of the current president. Representing himself, he won his asylum case after one year in US detention in June of this year. Hard working with boundless energy, Mario J has been working 6-7 days per week at a landscaping firm to pay off his debts in arriving here, as well as to save for the future. The team has helped Mario J with clothing and other basic necessities as well as friendship and support. Mario J now has a steady job, a car and is working with a parishioner referred pro-bono lawyer to get in his green card application.
Mugahid joined the Migrant Team last November having been referred by the CAIR (Capital Area Immigrants’ Rights) Coalition. Mugahid fled Sudan in June 2019 after being targeted due to his participation in peaceful protests. Last Spring, after crossing into the US near Yuma, Arizona, Mugahid claimed asylum and was placed in the ICE detention center in Farmville, VA, where he contracted COVID. His dedicated CAIR lawyers were able to win his asylum case on October 15, 2020, but Mugahid was left with no community. Fortunately, due to the generosity of parishioners, Mugahid was moved out of the New York Avenue Shelter and into a temporary apartment in Georgetown through Attache Corporate Housing. Due to the hard work of Mike Conway and the rest of Team Mugahid (Paul Shaya, Dennis McAuliffe, John Brain and Matt Hamilton), Mugahid now has a Social Security number, medical insurance (and the start of medical care for his teeth, knee damaged by prison guards) and food snaps (SNAP). Mugahid is now living and working in Adams Morgan, renting a room, and working part time at various local businesses. Mugahid wants to improve his English skills, acquire a driver's license, and continue his university studies.
Yanilson (Lino) is Garifuna, Afro-Indigenous descendants of shipwrecked Nigerian slaves who married Carib people on St. Vincent in the 1600s. Racial prejudice is strong in Honduras. The dark-skinned Garifuna children are segregated from the lighter skinned or “white” children in Honduran schools, given fewer resources, and taunted and bullied by white children and teachers alike. For Lino, more bullying and abuse came in adolescence - identified female at birth, and now identifying as a transgender male. After years of abuse, Lino fled when thugs sent fire to his mother’s house. Crossing the border brought additional poor treatment because of Lino’s gender identity during his seven months at a women’s detention center in El Paso. Fortunately, Heidi Cerneka, a Maryknoll Lay Missioner and attorney took on Yanilson’s case and contacted a generous Maryland couple who agreed to pay his bond and serve as his sponsors. After living the first months in the shelter at Casa Ruby, where he celebrated his 19th birthday, he has now moved to an apartment. The Holy Trinity Migrant Team helped him obtain donated furniture, provided much-needed housewares, and continues to supply food. Much still lies ahead for Lino—finding a job, learning English, gaining asylum—but he is optimistic. Recently Yanilson’s siblings, nieces and nephew joined him. The team is working to find affordable housing for the family in Maryland.
Julien Patrick joined our familia in the spring. Formally in Catholic seminary, Julien Patrick had to flee his home country of Cameroon, making the treacherous journey from Ecuador by foot to the border. The migrant team has connected him with housing, food, legal help, a pro-bono therapist (who is helping him with the difficult things he has seen and experienced) and various doctors. Julien Patrick’s faith and positivity, despite his many hardships, have quickly endeared him to many in his new family here. He is very busy volunteering at Holy Trinity and is involved with the choir and many other activities. He is teaching French to children in Ecuador as a way of paying back those who helped him.
Hadia is the newest member of our family and was referred to us by a law student at Georgetown University. She is an extraordinary activist who has repeatedly advocated for women’s rights and democracy in Afghanistan on television, podcasts, and online, including on BBC News and Twitter. Though just 25, she directs an Afghan democracy non-profit, worked for a prestigious international research organization, and has worked for open debate and equal rights through several nonprofits. She fled Afghanistan after months of death threats by the Taliban, who have killed members of her religious and ethnic minority family. Hadia is currently living in an apartment provided by a parishioner while the team identifies affordable and secure housing. It is no surprise that last month Hadia tirelessly volunteered with an Afghan refugee aid effort at an Adams Morgan Afghan restaurant.
In a meeting with AsylumWorks over the summer, we shared that this work happens because of the Holy Spirit and the generosity of this community. We want to acknowledge the generosity of Attache Corporate Housing, Dr. Robert Cheron, Ron Castaldi, Dr. Culotta-Norton, Dr. Marc Connell, members of the parish who continue to help us address medical and housing needs. Many of you continue to donate groceries, clothing, and cars for our members or have recommitted to the “driving team.”
As we emerge from the restrictions and desolations of COVID, our families continue to struggle, but with hope. Please keep our families and parishioners in your prayers.