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Editor’s Letter – 8/15/18

“I always tell people: ‘Get ready to fall in love with José.’”

That’s the first line of this issue’s powerful cover story by Alicia Chesser. It’s spoken by Mary Woolslayer, a retired kindergarten teacher who took in a paroled asylum seeker after his release from ICE detention at the David L. Moss Criminal Justice Center in Tulsa. Mary is participating in a sponsorship program initiated by the New Sanctuary Network, which places migrants apprehended at the southern border with local host families who open their homes and hearts to those desperate for a better life.

People like Mary offer “a soft place to land” for people like José. It’s a welcome contrast to the immigration headlines we see every day: traumatized children, shattered families, and whole communities shaken to their core by mass deportation and detention.

Reading the news in 2018 can feel like a gauntlet of despair. It can feel like we’ve lost touch with what makes us human, as if the ethereal thread connecting us to our most vulnerable neighbors has been snipped overnight, but the story of José and Mary shows us another way.

José is a 36-year-old surgeon from Venezuela. Fearing deadly violence in his home country, he sought political asylum in the U.S. after his brother was assassinated by the government. José did everything by the book: he researched the asylum process, got his papers in order, and presented himself at the border for protection—but he didn’t get it. Instead, José was shackled and jailed, bussed nearly 700 miles with 90 other detainees to an ICE detention cell in Tulsa, where he spent 70 days in confinement. He broke down, as so many of us would, under the weight of this harrowing experience. 

“If I would have known what I had to go through, I would not have sought asylum in this country,” José said. “The reason why I did come was because friends told me that in the U.S. they respect human rights, liberties, freedoms. I knew those were beautiful values. I thought, ‘I want that.’ That’s what I was told I would find here.” 

José didn’t find those ideals in our institutions, but he found them in the home of a stranger. Alicia writes so movingly about the special relationship between José and Mary, whose bond was forged by unthinkable hardship and improbable kindness.

People who risk it all for the prospect of living a safer, more dignified life—people like José—don’t make that decision lightly. They’re not criminals. They’re brave, and inspiring, and they deserve our love and respect. José’s story is incredible, and I’m so honored to be able to share it with you.

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