Since last summer, late July, I have considered the possibility of hosting an asylum seeker or possibly an international refugee in my “inherited” trust house. I see that I discussed my previous experience with this matter on February 23, 2014 (and to some extent Nov. 2, 2016).
I won’t give a detailed history of all the discussions, but I have met with an attorney separately in Virginia (where I lived), for some sense of what legal risks could be involved. I’ve documented elsewhere the requests for housing assistance particularly from The DC Center Global, as here on a legacy blog.
There is a big difference between refugees and asylum seekers. Refugees are vetted by the State Department and by Homeland Security before they arrive. They can get benefits and can go to work and support themselves. They usually have support from religious congregations, which work through a number of non-profits (themselves faith-based) who work with DHS. Generally these non-profits are pretty mainstream now and don’t impose their religious values (as with LGBTQ people). Usually refugees are intact families that are put up in commercially run apartments with rental assistance. Occasionally there are single individuals who are placed with people who know them (relatives if possible) or whom social service agencies locate.
Asylum seekers are already here in the U.S. They may have overstayed their visas, but applied for political asylum within the one year period of arrival (in most cases). They might have entered illegally and then requested asylum, in which cases they are often placed in detention.
Asylum seekers are not allowed to work or get federal benefits for some number of months (6-9) after application. Asylum cases can take an extremely long time to be heard by immigration judges. In practice, judges have a lot of discretion on applying ideas like “particular social group” or “credible fear”. It’s conceivable that the Trump administration could try to tighten these, but there is no really clear sign yet that this is happening,
Asylum seekers, by definition, have not been vetted before coming. Therefore, it is riskier, on its face, to allow them to circulate freely in American society. Generally, the idea behind the law is that asylum seekers are welcome when some individual or family or small social group will vouch for their integrity and will financially and physically support them. That means that asylum seekers who have relatives in the US usually have more sources of help than those who do not.
The best host, then, is usually a relative or someone who already knows the asylum seeker personally, Someone else who would host an asylum seeker might be able to do a background check with a school or employer, if the person had been here on a work or study visa. A host might be able to use one of the many “background investigation” sites on the Internet to do a check of public records. But the prospective host has the situation of potential liability for the behavior of the person hosted without (short of very radical ideas like marriage or adoption) the legal arrangements that are possible, say, in Canada, which has legally well defined private sponsorship status in its family law.
Organizations seeking to assist asylum seekers do not have the resources behind them that churches assisting the hosting of refugees have. Generally that may be asking “strangers” to host them without the usual reassurance of knowing the person well, and without the social service agency supervision that lawyers have told me personally is necessary. One practical solution is to ask prospective hosts to volunteer for a while to get to know the people first, to help build “social capital”. This might be problematic if a volunteer has housing space but resists offering it out of personal caution. So hosting gets to be seen as an act of “faith”. It’s easy to misuse other people’s “faith”. But it’s also true that a potential host, like me, could have the “Rich Young Ruler Problem”. That is, he has limited social capital personally (because he has a veneer of self-sufficiency) and has a lot to lose if something goes terribly wrong. On the other hand, someone used to a communal lifestyle with “less to lose” might think that offering hosting is not much of a deal and ought to be expected of everyone.
The host does face some possible hazards . Without going into too much detail, these could include housing someone with illegal status after an application is denied (although there are some faith-based groups who attract volunteers who see providing sanctuary to undocumented immigrants as a moral duty – that is another matter), a “trojan horse” person (Donald Trump’s “take care of your own first” idea), or criminal misuse of the host’s Internet router. Another possibility is that, especially depending on unknown future developments, the person becomes a long term financial dependent in areas like health care treatment (including HIV-related). There can be general social adjustment issues around behaviors like smoking., recreational drugs or alcohol.
At this point, let me reiterate what my own position on hosting anyone is.
If I know the person already (even if primarily onine), my attitude is no different than anyone else’s would be. It all depends on that person and my connection to him/her. It may be easier if the person is publicly known. This is the normal experience of having a house guest. It’s not an issue. But I’ add that I don’t “do” Airbnb (either as a provider or guest).
If it involves a request to house a person suddenly in need of housing, and I learn of this suddenly:
If I already know the person, then it is no issue (above).
If I learn about the situation at a social or volunteer event and the person is not from overseas, I would need to talk to the person in detail and would need references (see Feb.23 posting – I’m stricter now than I was then). This actually happened once in early January, 2017 but I took no action.. It is very unusual in general.
If it is an international hosting situation (refugee or especially asylum seeker) and if I do not know the person already, I need to have a scheduled in-person private meeting with at least one attorney or professional social worker representing the organization, to discuss a number of potentially adverse scenarios. Some time (up to two weeks) could elapse before I decided if I’m “in” or remain “out” (no pun). I make no apologies for my “faith deficit” or lack of “social capital”. Actually, I may have my own sources of social capital to bring to the table. But an existing organization asking for this kind of assistance must recognize me as an “Out of Network” provider.
It could help if the organization offered a public “town hall” information forum for potential hosts, or published an FAQ page, after review by an immigration attorney.
In talking about “knowing the person” from online activity, I also realize this assessment must be looked at carefully. The person needs to be capable of (verifiable) independence and not simply trying to manipulate others online.
(Posted: Saturday, March 25, 2017. 3:45 PM EDT)