One morning last week, around 9:30am, we had a power outage at home.
One second everything was fine, and the next – my computer died, the lights went off, the heat shut down, the fridge stopped humming.
First response: Frustration. Had I lost the document I was writing on my computer? I can’t warm up my coffee in the microwave. No heat, and it was a chilly morning. I can’t turn on the TV to watch the news.
Next: Helplessness. I can’t fix this. I called the power company and got a recording: “We’re currently experiencing a high volume of calls, and wait times of at least one hour.”
Next: Ignorance. When will power be restored? Is the food in the fridge going to spoil? If we need to go out, we can’t use the garage door opener – can we manually open the garage door? When it gets dark this evening and we get out the flashlights – I’ve been meaning to get new batteries…
I sat in the kitchen drinking lukewarm coffee and sulking, when a thought occurred:
No electricity is what so many Ukrainians have been experiencing – and for days. No electricity, no water, and many are running out of food and medicines.
I have good reason to believe my electricity will come back on.
Since we had daylight, I could read. I turned to the morning newspaper and saw this story on the front page:
It couldn’t believe it, though the family was there in front of me:
I was outraged.
These are Ukrainians, seeking asylum here, refused entry into the U.S! Think of what Putin is doing to their country! This is terrible!
The woman is 34-year-old Sofiia – apparently fearful of revealing her last name – traveling with her children ages 14, 12 and six.
The family left Ukraine on February 27 and traveled to Moldova, Romania and Mexico, arriving in Tijuana on Monday, March 7 – nine days of travel. Their final destination was Los Angeles, the home of the only family she has outside of Ukraine.
Sofiia had a typed letter from her U.S. relatives explaining who she is and promising to take care of her living expenses.
Her relative drove down from Los Angeles to pick up her and her children, and tried to drive them north across the border at the San Ysidro Port of Entry:
Her relative explained to the officer that he was a U.S. citizen and that his family was fleeing the war. He asked what he needed to do for them to be able to enter with him. The officer told him that he could not cross with them and turned the car around.
The relative took Sofiia and her children to a hotel. The U.S.-based relatives then contacted the U.S. consulate in Tijuana and asked for help to get permission for the family to enter. They didn’t get a response, Sofiia said.
On Wednesday, March 9 she decided to try walking through the pedestrian lane at San Ysidro Port of Entry and requesting asylum that way:
But officers stationed at the border line wouldn’t let her onto U.S. soil.
Sofiia and her family were turned back by the same border policies that have stopped asylum seekers from around the world and stranded them in Tijuana indefinitely.
Asylum seekers – thousands of them – from Haiti, Guatemala, Honduras, El Salvador, Venezuela, Cuba, Brazil, India, Eritrea, Ghana, Ethiopia, Cameroon and now…
Among those border policies is Title 42, a Trump-era policy continued by the Biden administration. One of the reasons both administrations said that Title 42 is necessary is to protect against the spread of COVID-19 in the United States.
Leaving Sofiia and her family stuck in Mexico, possibly for years.
I stopped reading to think.
I doubt that anyone could deny that our immigration system is – well, I think this headline sums it up:
And just like all the Powers-That-Be in Washington, DC, I have no solution.
And how can I suggest that Sofiia’s situation is somehow different/worse from all those thousands of other asylum seekers, that she and her family somehow deserve special consideration?
Everyone who’s seeking asylum is in a desperate situation – is Sofiia’s any more desperate?
I returned to the Union-Tribune article.
An immigration attorney who happened to be nearby noticed Sofiia’s situation.
Blaine Bookey (pictured), the legal director for the Center for Gender and Refugee Studies at UC Hastings, stepped forward to help Sofiia, who was crying and so overwhelmed she was unable to speak.
After four or five hours of standing by the entrance to the United States, a small group of immigration attorneys and advocates had formed around her, messaging their contacts in CBP and posting Sofiia’s story on Twitter.
The article ended with Sofiia saying,
“We left our lives, our jobs, our families and houses in Ukraine just to escape from this horrible war. All my friends and family are far, far away from me, and I don’t know if they will be alive tomorrow. I just want to keep my kids’ lives safe.”
This is SO f**cked, I thought.
And it is:
Back to my nice, safe home: My no-electricity story had a happy ending.
About an hour after the power went off, it came back on. Computer, lights, heat, hot coffee, and I added “check flashlight batteries” to my to-do list.
No lights-back-on for so many in Ukraine.
The next morning, I saw this online:
According to the article, attorney Blaine Bookey’s “tweets and media coverage sparked renewed criticism of a Trump-era order to deny people a chance to seek asylum under an order to prevent spread of COVID-19 known as Title 42 authority.”
The situation triggered “sharp criticism from Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer and other Democrats.”
U.S. authorities will allow Sofiia and her family to seek asylum. They entered San Diego for processing.
The San Diego Union-Tribune article noted that in allowing the family into the U.S.:
“…officials made an exception to what has long been the rule at the border of turning back asylum seekers who are trying to request protection.”
What’s ahead for Sofiia and her family?
According to the Refugee Council USA website, the asylum-seeking process,
“…from application to approval, can typically take about six months. If after their interview their case is not approved by U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), they can still re-apply using the defensive process.”
And what is this “defensive process”?
According to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees – the UNHCR – website:
“The defensive asylum process is for individuals who are in removal proceedings. Removal proceedings are when the United States government orders that you be removed (deported) from the United States.
“A person who is in removal proceedings may apply for asylum defensively by filing the application with an immigration judge at the Executive Office for Immigration Review (EOIR) in the Department of Justice. In other words, asylum is applied for ‘as a defence against removal from the U.S.’”
Sofiia and her children have a long road ahead of them, with no guarantee they won’t be deported.
For now, they’re with their U.S. relatives in Los Angeles.
And I’m left wondering…
Will Sofiia and her family – and the next Ukrainians, and all those asylum seekers – have a happy ending?