It’s Not Easy Being an Asylum Seeker

The Oregon Community Asylum Network has brought more than 30 refugees to Eugene

By Victoria Koch

I got a text around 8 pm, two days before Christmas Eve from Maria,* the asylum seeker I sponsor. She told me Lorenzo’s wife, Hilda, was on her way to Eugene, and due to bleak weather conditions, her flight had landed in Portland. Lorenzo, who had come from Nicaragua over a year and a half ago and was excited to reunite with his beloved, had been working two jobs and saving to bring Hilda back to him. He had managed to first bring her brother here, who had also been working non-stop.

We all started brainstorming how we might help bring Hilda home. My daughter lives in Portland, but no one was driving in the horrific icy weather. Hilda knew no English and she and Lorenzo were in contact by cell phone. My advice: Go to the airport desk and find someone who speaks Spanish. But Hilda was, naturally, terribly shy in a strange new country. Texts continued to be passed back and forth between all of us. Lorenzo bought his wife a train ticket. How to get her from the airport to the train station? It seems easy, right? But it’s not easy being a brand-new asylum seeker.

Hilda was afraid to leave the airport as her Mexican-bought phone had no internet access once she stepped outside the airport. She ended up staying the night and no doubt trying to sleep (?) in the airport.

The next day I didn’t hear much from Maria. I thought I understood that Lorenzo was going to take a train or bus up to Portland to help his wife come back to Eugene. “What an endearing husband,” I thought. But finally what happened is that Lorenzo got Hilda an Uber ride to the train station. I turned my phone off to go to bed. The next morning I saw Maria’s text: Hilda had arrived safely around midnight.

It was Christmas Eve and I had invited Maria, her wife Marisol, Hilda, Lorenzo and his brother-in-law to all gather and celebrate at my house. Maria and Marisol had spent much of the day cooking. When I picked them up from their trailer home, they had trays and trays of their prepared Salvadoran dishes. Later as I opened my door and Lorenzo’s family entered, I gave Hilda an extra long welcoming hug. She beamed with appreciation.

What a beautiful evening we shared with simple presents, delicious food and loving Spanish and English words flowing. I asked Hilda and Lorenzo about their children. They showed me adorable pictures of their 5 and 8 year olds. Where were they? They were with Hilda’s mother in Nicaragua. Maria and Marisol were still waiting to bring Marisol’s older daughters to Eugene. Lorenzo and Hilda smiled. Yes, they would be working at eventually bringing their children to Eugene.

It just isn’t easy being an asylum seeker or an asylee.

Victoria Koch has been an asylum-seeker sponsor and member of Oregon Community Asylum Network (OCAN) for four years. OCAN is having an online silent auction in February. All proceeds will benefit lawyer/cost of living fees for the more than 30 asylum refugees brought to Eugene from Central and South America.

* All names are pseudonyms as the people in this viewpoint don’t have asylum yet, and Koch says there could be people in their country trying to track them down. Many people sponsored by OCAN have left rather dire situations including rape and abuse, she says.