(WB) Over the Thanksgiving weekend, the LGBT Asylum Task Force — a Hadwen Park Congregational Church ministry in Worcester, Massachusetts — housed the first group of LGBT asylum seekers in a newly renovated apartment building in the Central Massachusetts city.
The task force — which aims to provide asylum seekers of all faith traditions housing, food, and connection to legal, medical and mental resources — and its volunteers worked tirelessly to make sure three gay men seeking asylum in the U.S. would have all the items they needed, reported AP.
“I don’t even have the words,” Alain Spyke, a 26-year-old who fled Jamaica because of a local gang’s harassment and threats, told the news wire. “To come into this country and have a safe space to escape all the hardships and trauma? Not everyone has that opportunity.
The LGBT Asylum Task Force opened the new, permanent home after raising more than $500,000 to purchase and renovate a three-story apartment building, which was a former group home, in the city’s west side. The task force’s director, Al Green, told AP that it’s the largest investment that the group has made to date.
The group, which started in 2008, provides rent and a $500 monthly stipend for immigrants, at least until they can gain work authorization. “Asylum seekers are not allowed to work for up to two years after arriving in the US. Our vital ministry provides comprehensive support for the entire duration of that two-year period in which it is needed,” its website reads.
“We found that giving folks stability has helped them better prepare for their asylum cases,” said Green, a former participant in the program from Jamaica. “They know they’re in a safe place until they can get on their feet.”
The task force’s website details some of the stories of asylum seekers it has helped over the years.
Michelle, who did not use her last name, was forced to leave her country of Uganda after her family found out that she was in a same-sex relationship. She was later arrested by Ugandan authorities, who she said gang-raped her and her partner while at the detention center.
“My girlfriend died because one of the policemen squeezed her throat while forcing her to have sex with him, and she stopped breathing,” she said. “I managed to escape and got to the U.S.”
She continued: “I got to know about the LGBT Asylum Task Force through my pastor, who was also in the task force. I was warmly received by the task force — they gave me food, clothes and shelter, which really gave me tears of joy plus a sense of belonging. I know I have a family that believes in my sexual orientation and I feel safe.”
AP notes that the new home’s opening comes as an immigrant and LGBT activists push for President Joe Biden’s administration to undo harmful immigration policies from the Donald Trump administration.
Ari Shaw, a director at the Williams Institute, told the publication that the Biden administration has rescinded a rule that made it harder for migrants, including LGBT people, to seek asylum because of domestic abuse or gang violence.
Still, other Trump-era rules, including one that uses COVID-19 as an excuse to deny asylum cases, stay in place. After a recent court order, Biden will also resume the controversial “remain in Mexico” policy.