In partnership with congregation Sherith Israel, St. Mary’s Nueva Esperanza Accompaniment Team (NEAT) is accompanying an asylum seeker from Columbia. This is Edward’s story, lightly edited, as he has approved for us to share.
Edward is a young man in his thirties who arrived in the Bay Area in Early September. He brings with him to the United States a story that sustains his focus on asylum, lessons of survival learned very early in life, a clear love of family, a commitment to friends made while on his personal trek, and an energy and enthusiasm for the future. Our Nueva Esperanza Accompaniment Team (NEAT) is pleased to be by his side on his path to asylum and self sufficiency
After being forced to leave his home in Columbia five years ago, Edward found his way to Mexico where he began his experiences with border crossings. Finally, in September 2022 Edward was detained in San Antonio after crossing the U.S. border seeking asylum. In San Antonio, he was supported there by a community accompaniment team who worked with our San Francisco NEAT to help him stay safe, contact his sponsor in the Bay Area, and fly to San Francisco.
Edward’s sponsor in Marin County is our dearly beloved Marcony, who St. Mary’s accompaniment team helped achieve asylum in 2019. Marcony had worked with Edward in Tijuana while he waited to cross into the U.S. Edward now has housing in Marin near his old friend Marcony.
Edward’s Asylum search began in Columbia, where he had been volunteering at an emergency medical tent during protests in his hometown. This tent was set up because numerous wounded protesters had been arrested or disappeared from the hospital. They were protesting social inequities, police corruption, and repression. During one protest there was a particularly brutal crackdown by police. They destroyed the First Aid tent, and two of Edward’s friends were taken away.
Edward went home, but two policemen were posted outside. He understood that his life was in danger. He and his mother planned an escape to neighboring Panama. Edward left on foot and his mother went by plane. But many Colombians had escaped to Panama and Edward didn’t feel safe there either, because he knew police were looking for him. His mother found a live-in job taking care of a family home, including their guacamayas (macaws). She is safe there, and Edward checks in with his mother often. Edward went on to Tijuana in hopes that he would be safe and could eventually cross into the US.
Edward and Marcony became friends in Tijuana where they worked at a car wash, shared housing, and made plans to cross the border together into the US. On that crossing, Marcony was detained for 8 months in U.S. and Edward was sent to detention in Miami. Edward opted not to apply for asylum due to lack of any support in the U.S. and returned voluntarily to Tijuana, while Marcony successfully made it to the Bay Area
Edward established a successful Tijuana business washing cars at peoples’ homes. He came to the attention of the drug cartel who pressured him to hide drugs in cars to elude custom inspections. When he refused, he was beaten up and given first aid at the Red Cross. Now Edward was afraid to stay in Tijuana. He’d been saving money and waiting until the “wait in Mexico” policy ended. Finally, in September 2022 he successfully crossed into the U.S. and was detained in San Antonio, TX. Marcony was contacted by immigration officials and said he would gladly sponsor Edward.
Marcony along with Kelly Younger, from the Interfaith Movement for Human Integrity (IM4HI) helped orient Edward during his stay at a transitional hotel and helped arrange for Edward’s flight to San Francisco.
As Edward looks ahead he has several goals to become a contributing member of his new community. He is focused on learning about and completing the asylum process, including getting his work permit and green card. He imagines that he would remain in Marin County, if possible, and create a service business as he was successful doing in Tijuana. He has begun studying English using an interactive app, and he will sign up for classes in January. He has begun familiarizing himself with local and regional transportation options. For now, he gets around by bicycle, which is a great way to get to know the Marin community.
If you want to join St. Mary’s NEAT in supporting asylum-seekers in the Bay Area, contact clergy or any of these St. Mary’s neat members: Anne Williams, Barbara Marré, Georgene Keeler, Greer Hopkins, Gerson Marcony Bolvito Grijalva, Susan Gamboa, David Crosson, Mari Coates, Nancy Clark, and Susan Barber.