From the Executive Director . . .
I can’t think of any better place to celebrate July 4th than Philadelphia. It was here, after all, that the Declaration of Independence was written and proclaimed that all men (and of course we now mean ALL PEOPLE) have a right to “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.” Interestingly, one of the specific interferences with liberty the Declaration protests is the “obstructing the laws of Naturalization of foreigners” by the states which prevented their population growth. It is these values that are carried out every day by HIAS Pennsylvania. The story of the asylum seeker, Ken that we feature below is just one example.
Ken faced torture, prison and religious persecution in his home country. With skilled representation by senior attorney Ayo Gansallo, Ken gained asylum. This life-changing event means he can live without fear, as he plans for the future.
In our work to resettle and represent those fleeing war, conflict and persecution, those seeking opportunity and protection from harm; in reunifying and preserving families and in promoting naturalization, we help secure life and liberty to hundreds of new Pennsylvanians each year. At a time when there are 60 million displaced people in the world, 51% of whom are children, when the number of asylum seekers is the highest level ever recorded by the United Nations, when thousands of Central American women with children, and children traveling without any parent, seek safety in the U.S. from violence in their county, we are busy.
You can celebrate July 4th all year round by becoming a HIAS PA supporter; we hope you are inspired to do so.
Executive Director, HIAS Pennsylvania
The Program: Philadelphia Partnership for Resilience
HIAS Pennsylvania, along with its community partners Nationality Service Center and Build a Bridge International, provides comprehensive services, to survivors of torture in Philadelphia and the surrounding area, including legal, social and mental health services.
This 4th of July, as we celebrate our nation’s Independence Day, we, at HIAS PA would also like to celebrate the independence of one of our clients, “Ken”, from intimidation and torture.
Ken was a pastor in his home country of Angola, where as a religious figure, he quickly became influential politically. However, because of his work speaking out against the civil war that was ravaging his country, he became the enemy of both the government and the rebel groups that were fighting each other for control. Soon he began receiving threats. One afternoon as Ken was returning home from Church Services with a friend who was driving him home, the two men were ambushed by what would later turn out to be government security officers. The men were separated into different cars and never saw each other again.
Ken was driven to the infamous “Viana” Angolan prison, the very sight of which was enough to instill sheer dread because of the stories of torture and death associated with it. He remained there for a week, in poor sanitary conditions with little food or water and violent criminals for company. Eventually, Ken was smuggled out of prison by a guard and taken to a waiting car that led him to a safe house full of his friends and acquaintances. Ken left Africa almost immediately as all knew it was no longer safe for him to remain there.
He initially fled to Canada to seek asylum but his application was denied and he was sent to the U.S. where he was detained. Unfortunately, during his detention, Ken learned that his wife and son had been killed when the government had come to search for but could not find him. In addition, his daughter had disappeared and to this day, he does not know where she is. Inevitably, Ken found himself wracked with survivor’s guilt, living with ghosts that continue to haunt him.
Finally, Ken was released and was introduced to HIAS Pennsylvania, where one of our attorneys, Ayodele Gansallo, represented him in his removal case. Despite Ken’s credible story, the government sought time to ensure that the story they were told was consistent with the story that Ken had told other officials in Canada.
While the government sought three delays to obtain translations of transcripts, Ken’s anguish continued and his story never changed. Ultimately, the immigration appellate body, the Board of Immigration Appeals, issued a decision that squarely supported Ken’s grant of asylum. Finally, Ken was able to release his pent up fear in the knowledge that he had found a new home. Now, safe in the U.S., Ken is on a mission to rebuild his life and his church, and support his country and his cause from here.
Epilogue: Recently, Ken received news from Africa, that his daughter may still be alive and in the Democratic Republic of Congo, another of Africa’s terror hotspots. He hopes that one day, he may be able to locate her and bring her here to join him, in safety. We are inspired by Ken’s bravery, personal strength and commitment to his mission, and wish him success in his endeavors. We hope that you are also inspired to help us help others like Ken; click the DONATE button at the top of this e-mail today!
Photo of the Month
Refugee kids and HIAS PA volunteers enjoying a day at the zoo