A U.S. Border Shelter That Attracts Asylum Seekers Far And Wide

March 20, 2014 5:00 AM

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Morning Edition
7 min 48 sec

The La Posada Providencia shelter in San Benito, Texas, is run by a group of nuns. While the shelter is just across the border from Mexico, the asylum seekers come from poor, troubled countries around the globe.

Kainaz Amaria/NPR

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I've understood this truth ever since I went to Afghanistan in 2001. A man told me how he left his country without any travel documents and somehow crossed Iran by bus and foot, only to be caught in Turkey and sent back. He didn't give up, and a few years later came to visit me in Washington.

What I didn't clearly understand was how people in troubled nations finally make it here. It turns out that for some people, the key to the journey is the Borderland, the U.S.-Mexico border, which we have traveled this month for NPR.

If you lack a U.S. visa, you can't just board a flight for New York's JFK airport. The worse off your country is, the harder it may be to obtain that visa. American consular officers are likely to suspect, when you're coming from Yemen or Syria carrying everything you own, that your journey is more than a quick tourist trip.

But a network of smugglers can, for a fee, guide people to the airports of Latin America. From there, established land routes lead through Mexico to the US.

The La Posada Providencia shelter for asylum seekers is a nondescript building in San Benito, Texas.
Kainaz Amaria/NPR

La Posada Providencia shelter, an unassuming cluster of buildings near the border in San Benito, Texas, has in the past year received people from about 20 countries, such as Albania, Romania, Nepal, India, and China.

When we visited, we chatted with men from Somalia and Cuba. And we ran into three Ethiopian women who were studying English as a second language, taking a class over a kitchen counter.

Women staying in the shelter gather for an English lesson. The shelter has housed asylum seekers from Albania, Bangladesh, Belize, China, Congo and beyond.
Kainaz Amaria/NPR

They have applied for asylum in the United States, and are allowed to stay at the shelter while the government considers their cases and the stories they have told.

You really need to hear the voice of Saraa Zewedi Yilma, one of the Ethiopian women, who told of her story Thursday on Morning Edition.

We're mapping her incredible journey (from Ethiopia to Sudan to Brazil, then through Venezuela, Colombia and beyond) for our upcoming digital feature on Borderland.

For now, listen to that story in her own words. Hers is a soft voice, sometimes hesitant as she strugges to find the language. She is a tiny woman who took an immense journey; and the population of the La Posada shelter suggests her story is not uncommon.

Saraa Zewedi Yilma is seeking asylum from Ethiopia. Her journey to the U.S. border cost $15,000.
Kainaz Amaria/NPR