What I Learned from Writing a Romance Novel on Asylum

I wrote a romance novel about asylum. This may seem like a paradox, but it isn’t. Love happens at the border. Love of family, love of freedom, love of life and yes, romantic love. But unlike romance novels, these love stories often do not have a happily ever after. Still, love survives and sustains asylum seekers as it does for all of us.

There are ten things I learned while researching and writing my novel that I would like to share with anyone who has heard the recent rhetoric directed as asylum seekers. Language like surge, overflow, crisis and invasion. Let’s replace this language with compassion, understanding and facts, starting with these:

  1. Asylum seekers have a legal right under U.S. law to cross the border and make an asylum claim.
  2. The U.S. is obligated under domestic and international law to hear an asylum claim in immigration court and determine if it meets the standard set forth under U.S. law.
  3. By definition, asylum seekers are fleeing persecution at the hands of their own government. Many are being punished for fighting for American ideals in their home country — democracy in Venezuela, anti-corruption in Honduras, translators for U.S. troops in Iraq and Afghanistan.
  4. Asylum seekers are not a public health threat. The Trump administration used this excuse to close the border over the objections from the Centers for Disease Control (CDC). Career medical experts at the CDC resigned over this inappropriate use of the CDC’s public-health powers, as reported by The Wall Street Journal.
  5. Asylum seekers are not terrorists. This unsubstantiated claim by the Trump administration has resurfaced lately in the ranks of Republican leadership. There no proof that any individual on the terrorist watch list has been stopped crossing the southern border. Even Trump’s State Department said there is “no credible evidence” to connect asylum seekers with terrorist groups.
  6. Speeches and policies do not deter asylum seekers. Anything our government does to them does not compare to the horrors they are fleeing. All the hate speech does is divide our country and incite violence against immigrants.
  7. Asylum seekers are allowed into the U.S. to wait for their court date if they have a sponsor waiting for them (at least before the Trump Administration’s “Remain in Mexico” policy and Title 42). This is why many unaccompanied minors are carrying cell phone numbers for relatives in the U.S., and why they cannot be immediately released. This is an administrative problem that can be solved with technology and human resources to shorten wait times to connect minors and their sponsors.
  8. Asylum cases are difficult to win, but this does not mean they are fraudulent. The cases come down to documentation, and when you are fleeing for your life, grabbing documents admissible in a U.S. court is not at top of mind.
  9. This is a regional issue, and we need to work with our neighbors. Destabilization in Venezuela and drought in Central America has led to mass migration throughout Latin America. When your neighbor’s house is on fire, you don’t put up a fence, lock the doors and yell, “Go away!” You help your neighbor put out the fire.
  10. Asylum seekers are human beings. If you remember just one thing, let it be that.