It takes people who offer their homes to give them temporary or permanent roof; or to be legal sponsors
It was 6:00 in the morning on Thursday, October 10 when Brad Christerson, a sociology professor at Biola University in La Mirada, a city southeast of Los Angeles County, received a text message asking if he could host some days at home to a young Nicaraguan refugee.
“I was still in bed. I showed the message to my wife Carim to know their opinion. Hey, is it okay if someone stays with us? He thought about it for a few minutes. He answered, sure! ”Recalls Professor Brad.
The early message was sent by Pastor Ada Valiente, who along with her husband, Pastor Melvin Valiente, are co-founders of the Matthew 25 (Matthew 25) organizations in Southern California and We Care. They are also activists of the First Baptist Church of Maywood.
Professor Brad and Bismark Figueroa, another Nicaraguan refugee, collected 29-year-old Gerardo Herrera Centeno from Los Angeles International Airport, who was released from a immigration detention center in New Jersey on October 9. They took him to lunch, bought him some clothes and lodged him in the house of Professor Brad's family in the city of La Mirada.
"I do not know how to explain it. I couldn't even sleep, thinking I was going to be free, ”says Gerardo.
Until a little over a year ago, the boy lived in Jinotepe in northern Nicaragua next to his family. It is the third largest among ten brothers. He was engaged in the purchase of basic grains. His problems began when he decided to oppose the regime of President Daniel Ortega and participate in one of the marches against him.
“On May 30, 2018, Mother's Day in Nicaragua, I was arrested. I was walking down the street when a group of police and women who supported them detonated two shots. I wanted to run when they thumped me, broke my left ear and handcuffed me, ”he recalls.
Gerardo was taken prisoner and held for 18 hours in a room where they put several opponents of the regime.
“When they released me, out of jail, in front of my mother, an officer treated me as a quietist – as they call the barricades – he said that if he realized that I was still participating, they would detonate a bullet in the head, ”he says.
“It was very hard because my mother heard everything and she was very worried,” he says.
Although he was released under threats, the boy realized that he was being watched and followed. "They said I was in many things."
Frightened, on October 4, 2018 he decided to leave his town in the north of the country and move to the Department of Estelí, in the central area, but the threats continued. "Since then I don't see my mom," he emphasizes.
On December 29, 2018, he left Nicaragua for the United States, where he has a brother who lives in the state of Colorado.
The trip through Mexico was not easy. "The feds stole me $ 1,000 from me and they took me out of Mexico," he says.
Gerardo tried the trip again. Crossing Mexico took six months until it reached the southern border and crossed the Rio Grande in a raft.
“La Migra grabbed me in Texas on June 29, 2019. I had 14 days in the cells known as the coolers. Dand there they took me to a detention center in New Jersey, ”he says.
Through his brother, he got faith organizations to support him so that he would be released after the payment of a $ 10,000 bond that was covered by the We Care organization.
“I left free at 7 p.m. on Wednesday, October 9. On Thursday, October 10, I took a plane from New York to Los Angeles. I arrived in the afternoon, ”he says.
When he stepped on an angel floor, he said he felt super happy. Although a little worried because he didn't have any clothes, just what he was wearing.
Gerardo met his host, Professor Brad at the airport. Brad and Carim's couple have two adult daughters, but they are at university one at George Washington University and the other attends UCLA.
“I am part of Mathew 25 directed by the brave shepherds. They have developed a network of hosts to protect refugees, ”explains Professor Brad.
“I got involved because I am a Christian and I think this is what Jesus wants us to do, to help people who are in danger. They are fleeing for their life. They are persecuted. If that happens to me, I hope someone is there for me, ”he says.
And he adds that It feels great to have Gerardo at home, even when he doesn't speak Spanish, but his wife does. “They are good people. It is worth connecting with them and knowing their incredible stories, ”he observes.
Wide saying that welcoming an immigrant in his own home is a great opportunity as followers of Jesus, to do what he would do. “It is to welcome people who are in danger or in need. It is very satisfying and benefits our families a lot, ”he says.
Gerardo plans to travel to Colorado soon, to meet and settle with his brother Wilmer who just arrived in Nicaragua in February in search of political asylum.
“The first thing I want to do is study English. My dream is to obtain political asylum and see my father and mother again, ”he shares.
Bismark Figueroa, a Central American refugee estimates that more than 5,000 Nicaraguans have entered the country in the last year in search of political asylum; but of those, more than 2,000 have been deported.
“The problem is that when they arrive at the airport in Nicaragua, they are already waiting for them to disappear. 20 days ago, they killed a Nicaraguan who was deported two months ago, ”he says.
And he regrets that the ignorance and indifference of the US authorities dismiss the suffering that has been passed by asylum seekers and deported. “Sometimes, too, the refugees could not collect enough evidence to support their cases; or the sponsors abandon them. That makes them fall into depression and better sign their way out of the country, ”he notes.
“The average age of Nicaraguans fleeing the country is between 20 and 35 years. Because of how difficult it has been to come to the United States, many are moving to Europe specifically for Germany, Norway, France and Portugal, ”he says.
Although it states that Costa Rica with around 70,000, it is the country with the largest number of Nicaraguan refugees. Followed by Spain, Panama and the United States.
Bismark anticipates that more people will try to leave Nicaragua both because of political repression and because the economy is collapsing. "Every day there are more kidnappings, murders, police siege even against the Catholic Church itself that in Nicaragua has always been on the side of the people," he says.
Pastor Ada Valiente explains that they have a network of people in which they share the needs of asylum seekers and refugees, in which there are permanent and temporary hosts such as Professor Brad or legal sponsors such as Graciela Zambrana who is the sponsor of Gerardo .
However, they are not enough, so he calls on the Angelian community to become sponsors. People who have extra space in their homes are asked to consider becoming temporary or permanent hosts for refugees when they leave detention centers.
The Matthew 25 organization intercedes and advocates for immigrants from the United States before the authorities and provides education to pastors. The We Care organization walks with immigrants in their processes before the authorities.