By Kathleen Morris
In the past few issues, Springfield College students have shared their own stories of immigration and relocation. This article continues the trend with George Kelley, a junior here on campus.
What exactly is asylum? It is a promise of protection granted by a country to someone who has fled their native land as a refugee. Whether it be from political, racial, or religious persecution, refugees often try to find solace in a neighboring land.
The United States has been that sort of land for ages. Especially now, people are looking to this country as a means of relief. This is shown by the group of over 6,000 Central American migrants who have fled the violence of their homelands.
This journey that they have chosen to take has lasted for weeks upon weeks, leading them to an overcrowded migrant shelter in Tijuana, Mexico. This shelter is a repurposed sports complex where the migrants have had to deal with scarce resources, no privacy, and diseases that spread with ease. According to several news outlets, authorities have decided to close this temporary shelter due to the dangerous living conditions.
However, a shelter in Tijuana was never the aim of the asylum seekers to begin with. The goal was always to end up in America, a place they view as offering real security.
However, when about 500 of the asylum seekers broke away from the group to take their chances at crossing the border, they were met with resistance. United States border control agents fired off tear gas into the crowds, rebuffing their efforts.
Of course, there are other ways to enter the country, rather than contending with armed border agents. According to the New York Times, more than 2,000 migrants have tried to make appointments with American immigration officials.
This process has been made more difficult by the current administration and wait times have been lengthened to more than two months. And according to Chelsea Strautman, an immigration attorney, less than 20 percent of migrants from Central America get their applications approved.
Now these migrants find themselves between a rock and a hard place. Some are lone travelers, looking to build a new life for themselves, while others are families, trying to secure a real future for their children. Yet, all of them have been made to feel unwanted by this country, being labeled as criminals, drug dealers, and terrorists.
George Kelley, a junior at Springfield College, is one student on campus living the reality of coming to America as an immigrant. Kelley first arrived in the United States when he was just eight years old, from a refugee camp in Ghana. His family had fled their home country of Liberia in 2000 due to an ongoing civil war.
Liberia has had two civil wars in modern day times. The first lasted from 1989 to 1997, resulting in the death of more than 200,000 people, along with the displacement of millions. The second civil war in the country erupted two years later in 1999. It ended in 2003, but not before claiming the lives of more than 250,000 and displacing another million people.
Kelley explained that his grandmother paid a family member to bring them to Minnesota. After about a year, they moved to Boston.
“Being from another country and having no history in the U.S., no knowledge as to the workings of systems such as education, my grandmother and I have had to adjust as best we can to make life in the U.S. work for us,” he said.
The rest of his family, his mother, brother, and older sister, had to remain in the Ghanaian refugee camp until 2008. This separation made things even more difficult for Kelley.
He described the difficulty of being away from his close family, saying, “Much of the support that one might receive from family members is something that I either have to seek somewhere else or go without. Being so far from them has taken a huge toll on my mental health and emotional well-being.”
However, Kelley was able to add that in 2016, his family was reunited after being apart for eight years. Along with that, his two siblings are also in college, which Kelley described as a real victory.
At Springfield College, Kelley is a sociology major with minors in political science and social justice, because he feels these majors help foster critical thinking by aiming to ask and answer difficult questions.
He also added that there are a lot of issues being faced in the world today, but “We have the power to change things if we are willing.”
When switching to the nationwide discussion around immigration, Kelley said, “There are a lot of false narratives being propagated political leaders.” To him, it all seems like a means of gaining political support, rather than well-founded fears and concerns.
“[This is] something that we have seen time and time again in history, and what’s happening now is not much different. I wish people knew that those who immigrate to this country, in many cases, are in desperation and uproot their lives in search for better circumstances,” he said.
Kelley added, “This idea that people are risking their lives to come here to commit crimes and the notion that those who came here illegally should be punished, is short sighted and morally bankrupt.”
Despite this less than optimistic outlook on the current status of immigration, Kelley expressed some hope that tied back into his reasons for majoring in sociology.
“I am hopeful when I see my peers discussing politics and asking questions,” he said. Because, once people start asking questions, that can be the first step to finding answers that work.