We have the privilege of representing a young man who was raised in Jamaica, West Indies. Our earliest memories of Jamaica were formed, actually, through black and white photos, with jagged edges, taken by my parents, while on their honeymoon, in June, 1950, five years after my father returned from serving as a Navy pilot in the Pacific during World War II. The photos reflect a beautiful and pristine island, with native Jamaicans laughing and beaches filled with ripe, plump coconuts and so many bamboo bars beside clean shorelines. My parents’ memory of their time there was informed by the warm, breezy receptions that they were accorded by a most welcoming Jamaican community. For many years, Jamaica represented for me a place of sun, leisure, relaxation, serenity and brotherhood.
Not so very long ago, however, our deaf Jamaican client approaches us at the law center and asks for assistance in seeking refuge here in America. He is not quite thirty years old; educated; gentle and kind; and he has been tested as positive for HIV. He has spent the better part of the last decade advocating, moreover, for the rights of gay, deaf Jamaicans, at a terrible risk to his own security. Indeed, as our client walks the streets of quaint Jamaican villages several years ago, educating young gay men about AIDS prevention, his supervisor is murdered at home for the profound human rights work advanced by the association that our client serves for many years.
Frightened and desperate, our client flees to the United States and enters port legally, a gay, deaf man in a foreign, American city. This polite and reserved fellow somehow finds his way to our law center where we file an asylum application in his behalf. We seek asylum for fear that our client has a well-founded fear of persecution if he is compelled to return to the magnificent beaches where my parents began their life together, nearly sixty years ago.
Our most recent asylum client is not alone in seeking legal assistance. Each week, we receive calls or greet individuals who unexpectedly walk through the doors of our modest office in desperate search of emergency assistance. One of our interns recently referred to the New York Center for Law and Justice as the “legal emergency room”-an apt moniker worthy of sharing. Indeed, we strive to support our deaf community of New Yorkers who often are neither seen nor heard, but who request, with great humility, tolerance and respect and assistance from the larger hearing population.
We write this season to ask for your support: we are a small office with a large mission. We seek to stretch the safety net beneath our deaf neighbors, who often find themselves on the receiving end of an eviction notice, a consumer debt demand letter or a missive dismissing so many men and women from employment-an ignoble discharge from jobs that pay for rent and food and clothing, often cutting off wages that support a young son or daughter.
It is a privilege for all of us at the law center to be engaged, for sure, in such sacred advocacy for this mostly hidden population; yet funds are scarce often this season, for reasons that all of us understand.
We thank each of you for your continuing support. We wish
you a season of hope and joy. We are learning that hope and promise are core
compass points that direct all of us toward a redemptive future, however
challenging and problematic is our present.
We look forward to remaining connected to each
of you in the seasons ahead.