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'It is going to get worse,' refugee activist says

By PHYLISHA DRAYTON / VN STAFF WRITER
On February 15, 2017

The refugee situation in America – and Detroit – is going to get worse, Catholic Sister Nina Rodriquez told a Detroit Mercy audience at a “Refugees Among Us” panel discussion hosted last week by CLASA, the Carney Latin American Solidarity Archive.

“Brother and sisters, we just want you to know that it is going to get worse before it gets better,” said the activist from southwest Detroit. “But you know what? All of us can do something... You can write letters, you can join marches, you can speak out. Whatever you do … I dare you to go out and do something.”

Rodriguez captivated the audience with her piercing gaze and forceful tone as she shared stories of friends, family and strangers who’ve endured harsh realities while trying to find better lives in America.

The Jan. 31 event came in the wake of recent actions by President Donald Trump blocking citizens of seven Muslim-majority countries from entering the United States for the next 90 days and suspending the admission of all refugees for 120 days.

Trump’s action has sparked debate and prompted protest in America and beyond.

Organizers described the campus event as “following the guidance of Pope Francis who urges all Christians to provide comfort to refugees. Sadly, many of these same persons are publicly vilified by politicians and others who want to exclude poor, non-European immigrants from the U.S.”

Philosophy professor Gail Presbey, director of CLASA, said she hoped the discussion would help students understand why refugees seek to come to America.

The event was headlined by a young man named David, whose last name was not given.

Shyly stepping up to the podium, the 19-year-old Salvadorian shared his story on why he illegally left El Salvador for America and why he is now seeking asylum.

David told of being a 4-year-old boy in El Salvador left by his parents who had to escape the dangerous environment of extortion and gang violence.

In 2015, he made his way to America to be reunited with his parents.

The attentiveness of the audience throughout David’s story showed the sympathy felt for him and his tragic story.

Kevin Piecuch, David’s attorney and executive director of the Southwest Detroit Immigrant and Refugee Center, said David’s story is typical of immigrants seeking asylum.

“Many times when you think about refugees you think about Syrians, and they are definitely a group of those folks who are living in camps,” said Piecuch. “But what you may not know is that there are thousands of people just like David and his family living in and around Detroit who are seeking refuge in the United States.” 

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