Taking Shelter

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G hulam had grown up watching American movies, and he was eager to see his new country. He explored downtown Austin by bike and bus, marveling at the high-rises.

He started visiting nearby convenience stores run by Pakistani, Nepali and Indian men in preparation for the store clerk job he planned to obtain when his work permit arrived. He studied the shelves, memorizing the brand names and prices of snacks, beer and cigarettes. At night, he attended English classes at the shelter, then pitched in to help clean.

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Between 11 p. Asylum seekers like Ghulam can build community and familiarize themselves with the country, she explained. If they win their cases, they are prepared to integrate much faster than immigrants released directly from a detention center. La Posada Providencia, founded by the Sisters of Divine Providence in , takes a similar approach.

Take Shelter

There, nuns and volunteers drive their clients to immigration court and to medical and legal appointments, and provide emotional support, counseling and community. Many have endured severe hardships, including poverty, unjust imprisonment, even torture.

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At Casa Marianella, the resources available to clients include two staff attorneys, one of whom, Sarah Woelk, agreed to represent Ghulam pro bono. She helped him schedule appointments with doctors and therapists, who provided medical documentation of his trauma. In August , a year and four months after his release from the South Texas Detention Complex, Ghulam was granted asylum by an immigration judge in San Antonio.

T he obstacles to turning immigrant shelters into a full-fledged alternative to detention are substantial. But residential shelters have a deep-pocketed competitor in the alternatives-to-detention game: the private prison industry. The program is run by a for-profit company, BI Inc. And while government funding could convert shelters into a widespread alternative to detention, some shelter operators are wary that increased government involvement could conflict with their missions.

It receives a substantial part of its budget from the city of Austin. That funding has helped Casa expand from one house to seven houses, with dedicated housing for women with children.

D uring one of our conversations, Ghulam asked me the question that millions of immigrants are asking right now: Should I be afraid? Though Ghulam is from a Muslim family, he is not religious. Still, he worries that he could be a target. Ghulam also worried that Trump could somehow find a way to deport him.

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But Ghulam, at least, has significant protection from whatever is to come. In , he became a legal permanent resident, and he will qualify for citizenship in Today, Ghulam lives in a North Austin apartment with a friend. His first jobs in the United States were, as planned, in convenience stores. Then, inspired by the memory of a night in detention when he heard a semi passing on the highway outside, he decided to invest nearly all of his savings into truck-driving school. Now he drives for a Michigan-based trucking company, traveling the country for weeks and months at a time.

This project has been made possible with the support of Solutions Journalism Network , a non-profit organization with the mission to spread the practice of solutions journalism. Part 3: Life with an ankle monitor. Gus Bova reports on immigration, the U. He formerly worked at a shelter for asylum-seekers and refugees.

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Merwin, Honorary Texan. Taking Shelter.

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For decades, residential shelters have operated as humane alternatives to immigrant detention. Could they work on a larger scale? America Beyond Detention. Part 1 'Even the Birds and Animals are Free'. Part 2 Taking Shelter. Jen Reel. Do you think free access to journalism like this is important? The Texas Observer depends on support from its members to keep telling stories like the one you are reading now. Your membership means we can continue shedding light on issues that might otherwise go unreported. Can we count on you?

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