Before we met Ansly Damus, my wife Melody and I were not involved in immigration issues except as concerned voters. Like many people, our concerns grew as we watched the last administration spiral down to more and more cruelty.
The way immigrants and refugees were being treated was a real conflict with our values as Christians; so when we were asked to consider visiting a Haitian asylum seeker being held in a Northeast Ohio detention facility, we said yes. Our first visit with Ansly was in February 2018, and we’ve never looked back.
During our visit to the Geauga County Jail, we found an educated, religious, patient, and productive human being held in detention just because he came here and asked for protection from horrific dangers and political persecution. We visited dozens of times and became friends with Ansly. His story and the ways our local community supported him have been told many times in local and national media. Finally, Ansly was released in November with us as his sponsors, and has been a productive ‘citizen’ of Cleveland Heights ever since.
Immigrants in my family include every great grandparent and one grandparent. Mel has two grandparents from the ‘olde country.’ We heard their stories of passage to the United States and how they were received. All of them were able to successfully settle in and raise families.
We know times have changed and fear of the stranger has taken hold in many people in this country. But we have found the immigrants AMIS supports to simply be souls who want peace and prosperity for themselves and their families — and they still see the USA as the place for that peace.
America’s greatest strengths are its diversity and its economy. We would not have become the greatest economy and nation in history without immigration and the citizens that immigration has brought here. That understanding, and our belief that we have a responsibility to care for those in need, is what inspires us again and again to support the work of AMIS.
Humans have always migrated and needed to be accepted and welcomed by new people in new places. But when they arrive in the USA they often do not have the means to survive and our immigration bureaucracy is not supportive at all. AMIS helps in ways that few other organizations do — with DACA fees, rent payments, medical bills, etc. AMIS provides the kind of basic support needed while immigrants get settled and work their way through the bureaucratic maze of obstacles, from getting a work permit (which can take years) to getting basic documentation.
Living in a diverse country full of people who came from other places, brings with it challenges but also major opportunities. “Immigrants – we get the job done!” is a famous line from the Lin Manuel-Miranda musical Hamilton — framed in the era of the Revolutionary war — when everyone except Native Americans was an immigrant. But these words are still true today. We have experienced this again and again, through our relationship with Ansly, who is now a donor himself, and the other immigrant families we have come to know and support through AMIS.