African Refugees Face Challenges While Seeking Asylum in US
WESLACO – Thousands of people from African countries are waiting to come into the U.S.
Some are already in the Rio Grande Valley hoping they're granted permission to stay.
The number of refugees from the Democratic Republic of the Congo more than doubled from 2015 to 2016.
The latest numbers from the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services show in 2015 there were about 7,800 refugees from the country – the following year it increased to 16,300.
These refugees may face more challenges staying in the U.S. compared to those from other places like Central America.
The sounds of children playing fill the air at La Posada Providencia. It's a temporary shelter for immigrants seeking asylum or refugee status.
"It was not planned for me to come here, but here I am," says a mother from Zimbabwe who sits studying inside the shelter.
She wants to be a nurse someday. We'll call her Shalom for her safety.
Outside, another mom who we'll call Clara is relieved to see these sights instead of the ones she left behind.
"They're killing people, killing children. There is no school. Everything is bad in Congo," says Clara.
Clara and Shalom made the months-long journey.
Clara's husband worked for the president's family, which eventually led to trouble for her own family.
She said soldiers showed up to her house.
"They shoot me something here. I have here in my head and they iron my legs. They take my baby in the fridge. So, they tell me, ‘if you don't run, when we come, we'll kill you and your husband.’"
Leaving home wasn't part of either woman's future. Shalom and her husband were hunted down for being members of the opposing party.
"He was abducted and beaten and then after two weeks, he passed away. They said in his death certificate it was natural causes. It was not," she says.
Suddenly single with two children, she moved to a different town.
"I didn't know that there were people following me."
Those people found her. She claims men bursted into her house, beat her, sexually assaulted her and left her for dead. All of this in front of her 14-year-old son and 4-year-old daughter.
"They thought I was dead," Shalom adds.
Leaving Zimbabwe and her two children behind was painful. She meant only to flee to South Africa.
Warnings to keep moving and a mix up landed her in Los Angeles. Unable to return, she was told to stay and apply for asylum here.
"Those countries that have any ties, or at least in the eyes of the government, to any type of potential terrorism, those cases tend to take longer simply because of background checks that they go through. And, those cases are also not as likely to be able to be granted parole,” says Immigration Attorney Jodi Goodwin.
She says parole is also more difficult to obtain for those who don't have a sponsor.
This is where La Posada can make a difference.
"Many of the Africans, they tend to have less people to receive them," says Andi Atkinson, La Posada Executive Director.
She says they've received several people from African countries. It all started about a month ago.
"At least since I've been here, I've noticed a surge since this summer," she says.
La Posada helps people who are released from detention facilities like Shalom.
While she was detained, she received unexpected news – the rape yielded a child.
"In the detention I was advised to abort the child, but I said no. I'm a Christian," Shalom explained. "My faith doesn't allow me to do it."
She named him Emmanuel. "God is with us," adds Shalom.
Here among survivors of violence and hardship, you'll find faith in God, faith in this country and a community still accepting thousands running for their lives.
Many more from African countries predominantly the Democratic Republic of the Congo are waiting along our border.
They have a heavy presence in Nuevo Laredo, though some are also here along the Valley's border with Mexico.
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