Reflections from Keisha Branch: Walking with a Friend through her Asylum Process

As I sit here in quarantine, writing a letter to Olive, I think about the first time I met her. I was with Blanca, visiting a shelter in Juárez, and I saw a few African women talking amongst themselves. I was surprised and excited to see African people in Ciudad Juárez, so I approached them, inserting myself into their space in hopes of being welcomed. Slowly they embraced me, and it was the start of 12 beautiful and life-giving friendships.

I’ve known Olive since May 2019, and our relationship has grown greatly from that first visit to the shelter. I remember we were shy to meet each other – their stories and journeys are intense; they’re often wary of meeting new people. She asked me if my hair was naturally curly. I told her yes, and her eyes widened as we talked about hair products.

Sometime after I met Olive, she presented herself at the border while I was visiting Guatemala. After waiting months for her number to be called in the metering process, Olive ended up in an ICE detention facility close to El Paso County. Once she was processed, we were able to visit her regularly. It became a Saturday routine for me to visit Olive and we’d been getting together for some laughs, tears, and story sharing up until about a week and a half ago.

Though we talk on the phone almost every day (if she has the money to make a phone call; they pay almost nothing to work inside of the detention facilities), things have been difficult for us in the midst of COVID-19, because no one has been able to visit Olive or any of our other friends in the detention facilities. Bits of encouragement through letters, cards and phone calls, is about all she has until her individual hearing this upcoming week. This hearing determines if she is granted asylum or sent back to the danger she fled in her home country in Africa.

Pray with me as she attends her individual hearing. That God’s peace and grace will sustain her. That she will feel his presence. That he will give her confidence as she speaks with clarity. Pray that the judge understands her and shows mercy and compassion. Pray also for her lawyer, that she has every piece of information that she needs to best convey Olive’s case. Pray for our migrant brother and sister in our nation and others.

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