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University makes public letters written by asylum seekers

As part of a project sponsored by San Diego State University, volunteers wrote letters to asylum seekers detained by the United States government at a private detention center in Otay Mesa, California. In February 2019, the university released hundreds of letters written by the asylum seekers in response. The letters written by the detainees have been digitized and made available to the public online. Observers report that the letters serve to humanize the asylum seekers and, as a result, make the public more sympathetic to their plight and that of immigrants in Florida seeking to obtain permanent residency in the United States.

The university started the project as a way to educate the public regarding the conditions inside immigration detention centers. The American public has little access to information regarding the privately owned and operated center, at which refugees face hunger, forced labor and medical neglect. Another goal of the project was to humanize the detainees and inform the public regarding the desperate conditions from which the detainees were fleeing.

In their letters, some of the detainees recounted the perils they endured in their home countries and their hopes for a better life in the United States. Others expressed gratitude toward the volunteers for giving them respite from the dreary conditions in the detention centers. Many even made gifts for the volunteers from the scanty materials they were able to obtain from inside the detention center.

People facing persecution in their home countries based on their race, religion, political views or other basis may apply for asylum. They might want the assistance of an immigration attorney experienced with political asylum cases as the laws governing asylum are complex. Undocumented immigrants who fear deportation may also be able to request asylum.

Source: kpbs, "Asylum Seekers Letters Made Public At San Diego State University," Jean Guerrero, February 11, 2019.

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