SHREVEPORT, La. (KTAL/KMSS) – A Shreveport church quietly works to help immigrants find comfort and stability as they navigate the complicated and controversial path to legal United States citizenship.
“America is the best country for liberty, for democratic and rights,” said an immigrant from Senegal.
“It is perfectly legal under international and U.S. law to seek asylum, and that right should continue to be respected,” Frances Kelley, Louisiana Advocates for Immigrants in Detention said.
The journey to the United States for many asylum seekers is long and often dangerous. Those choosing to make the trek face many dangers along the way.
“The stories that we’ve heard about them and the things that they’ve experienced is just alarming,” Rev. Dr. John Henson, Church for the Highlands said.
A man who traveled to the U.S. from Central America recalls the journey with Rev. Kelley served as the man’s translator.
“It was three months on the journey from Ecuador and he went through the Darién Gap, which is a part of the jungle between Panama and Columbia that is extremely dangerous,” the Ecuadorian immigrant said.
After surviving the journey, immigrants are housed in detention centers.
La. has the second-highest number of immigration detention centers with nine across the state. Texas has the most with 26.
“These detention centers used to be prisons,” Kelley said. “They still operate very much as prisons.”
Those seeking asylum are released from detention centers after the government allows them to move forward with their legal case.
The next stop is a safe space like Church for the Highlands.
“The first thing that they do when they get off of the bus is they come to the alter, they’re at the alter rails, and they are praying,” Henson said. “You see the tears running down their faces. So, it’s a wonderful feeling to be able to provide that hospitality.”
Kelley emphasized that those seeking asylum do so to escape dangerous living conditions.
“It is incredibly important that this community continues to support people who were fleeing from horrific situations,” Kelley said.